Anbar border guard forces and the Iraqi army on Wednesday (April 10th) arrested 18 al-Qaeda suspects with support from combat helicopters.
The men were al-Qaeda leaders and emirs planning to cross into Syrian territory, security officials said.
They also came one day after Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, head of al-Qaeda in Iraq, announced the two groups will be merged into a new organisation to be known as the "Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant".
Brig. Gen. Hussein al-Azzawi, from the Anbar operations command, told Mawtani the security operation covered al-Qaim, al-Rutbah, Haditha, Anah, Kubaisa, Rawah, and al-Tharthar basin.
"The border guard, army, emergency battalions and combat helicopters operated as a single unit throughout the operation, and the terrorist cell was captured without any resistance," he said.
Iraqi forces also "destroyed a terrorist camp" in the Horan Valley, western Anbar, and destroyed three vehicles loaded with weapons and rockets that the gunmen were planning to use, he said.
These 18 detainees had been "involved in terrorist activities that targeted civilians, army and police forces, state institutions and civilian facilities", according to al-Azzawi.
All are al-Qaeda leaders and emirs who had been "planning to launch terrorist operations" in the Iraqi-Syrian border areas, and "merge with JAN in Syria", he said.
Col. Mahmoud al-Hadithi, also from the Anbar border guard, told Mawtani that security forces pinpointed the men's locations in western Anbar and found they intended "to unify their cells of death and destruction with those of JAN in Syria".
"This necessitated a quick response by Iraqi forces, who foiled their plans one day after [al-Baghdadi] announced the intention to unify the two groups," he said.
Al-Hadithi said Anbar security officials immediately began interrogating the detainees, who "confessed to the presence of three weapons caches in the western Anbar areas of Horan Valley, al-Rutbah and Akashat".
These caches included 37 improvised explosive devices, 17 rocket launchers, 22 Katyusha rockets with five launch-pads, 31 medium BKC weapons and rocket-propelled grenades, nine launchers, TNT, C-4 explosives, seven Tao rockets, three explosive belts, and various materials used to manufacture explosive charges and booby-trapped cars, he said.
Capt. Haitham al-Assafi, commander of the 6th Anbar Emergency Battalion, told Mawtani the detainees "admitted they had established contact with other terrorist cells from JAN in Syria, some of whom had also planned to move their crimes to Iraq".
Iraqi forces took measures to limit contact between al-Qaeda in Iraq and JAN, including increasing the number of guards at watch and observation towers, combing the western desert, and reinforcing security forces in areas near the borders.
"Border guards from the second district banned shepherds and farmers from approaching the barbed wire and shared bodies of water, and deployed security units in border areas that may be used by infiltrating terrorists," he said.