Battle with militants kills at least 8 in Iraq

March 22, 2007|By Alexandra Zavis | Alexandra Zavis,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- U.S. and Iraqi forces backed by warplanes battled al-Qaida-inspired militants for more than five hours in Anbar province, killing at least eight people and wounding five, the military said yesterday.

The battle started Tuesday near Amiriya, about 11 miles south of Fallujah, residents said. Sporadic gunfire continued yesterday.

The fighting began with insurgents aiming an hourlong mortar barrage at Iraqi police. U.S. Marine artillery returned fire, sending the mortar team fleeing, the military said in a statement.

Iraqi police then traded gunfire with the militants, killing two and wounding five, the statement said. Five policemen were wounded. The fighting continued until U.S. warplanes fired guided munitions and strafed about 20 militants, killing six and destroying their vehicles, the military said.

The fighting occurred in an area where some Sunni Arab tribesmen have turned against the al-Qaida fighters they long sheltered, aligning themselves with the Shiite-led government and joining its security forces. Insurgents have responded with attacks that have included suicide bombers driving trucks rigged with tanks of chlorine gas.

Iraqi police detained more than 45 suspected insurgents, confiscated propaganda and captured several weapons caches during raids in the Anbar provincial capital, Ramadi, on Tuesday, the U.S. military said in a separate statement.

Yesterday, U.S. forces killed five suspected insurgents and detained three others during a raid near Taji, north of Baghdad, the military said. They also found large-caliber ammunition and 50-gallon barrels of explosive material in an adjacent building, which apparently was being used as a bomb-making factory. The building was destroyed in an airstrike.

The identification and destruction of bomb-making factories is a key part of U.S. and Iraqi efforts as their latest security crackdown enters its sixth week.

The number of execution-style killings has dropped in the capital, largely, it seems, because Shiite militiamen have pulled back under orders from radical anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to give the plan a chance to quell sectarian violence. But car bombs, a hallmark of Sunni Arab insurgents, reached a record high last month.

Iraqi police destroyed a huge truck bomb in a controlled explosion yesterday that inadvertently killed one person, officials said.

Earlier, two roadside bombs targeting police patrols exploded in quick succession in east Baghdad. One officer was killed and three were wounded, along with a civilian, police said.

Three mortar rounds slammed into homes in the Madain area, on the capital's southern outskirts, killing three people and wounding 10, police said.

South of Baghdad, gunmen burst into the Ali ibn-Moussa mosque in central Basra shortly after dawn prayers and opened fire, police said. The imam and a guard were killed and a municipal council employee was wounded, police said.

The body of a kidnapped police officer was found in Diwaniya, a strife-torn town south of Baghdad, police said.

Alexandra Zavis writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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