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Iraqi Forces Kill 3 Insurgents in Raid
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Iraqi forces killed a local al-Qaida in Iraq leader and two other insurgents in a raid north of Baghdad on Friday, and roadside bombs killed an American soldier and an Iraqi policeman, officials said.

The death toll in two days of fighting around Baqouba climbed to 58, including seven Iraqi soldiers, Maj. Gen. Ahmed al-Awad said.

Provincial police chief Maj. Ghassan al-Bawi said troops and police were on the streets of Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, on Friday and roads to the city were closed because of fears the insurgents might regroup and launch more attacks.

Iraqi commando forces, acting on a tip, raided a house where Hamid al-Takhi, the local al-Qaida in Iraq leader, and the two other insurgents were hiding just outside Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, said police Capt. Laith Mohammed.

Al-Takhi, known as the "emir" of Samarra, was gunned down while fleeing the house, and the other two militants while trying to defend it with grenades, the US military said. After they were killed, the Iraqi troops found a car parked nearby containing a grenade launcher, rockets, AK-47s, grenades, and a shotgun, the US military said.

Mohammed said al-Takhi had been responsible for many insurgent attacks against coalition forces and civilians in the area.

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, the country's most feared insurgent group, appeared in a video earlier this week trying to rally Sunni Arabs to fight Iraq's new government and denouncing Sunnis who cooperate with it as "agents" of the Americans.

Also Friday, two mortars or rockets were fired at downtown Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, where Iraq's government meets and the US Embassy is located. One landed inside the zone but failed to detonate, while the other exploded nearby on the other side of the Tigris River, the US military said. No casualties were immediately reported.

The American soldier was killed by a roadside bomb that hit a military vehicle north of Baghdad, the US military said Friday.

The bombing Thursday raised to at least 2,397 the number of members of the US military who have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

On Friday, the weekly day of worship in mostly Muslim Iraq, a roadside bomb targeting an Iraqi police patrol exploded in southwestern Baghdad at 8:20 AM, killing one policeman and wounding two, said police Capt. Jamil Hussein.

Around the same time, police found the corpses of two middle-aged Iraqi men in a mostly Sunni Arab neighborhood of western Baghdad, Hussein said. The men, handcuffed, blindfolded and bullet-ridden, appeared to be the latest victims of a wave of kidnappings and killings by Sunni and Shiite death squads that target civilians.

New information also emerged about an unusual series of coordinated attacks by insurgents on Thursday in and around Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad.

Using mortar rounds, rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire, the insurgents attacked five police checkpoints, a police station and an Iraqi army headquarters, Iraqi and US officials said.
Clashes and raids continued through the night, Iraqi officials said. In addition to the seven Iraqi soldiers, Ahmed said 49 insurgents were killed and 74 others were arrested. US officials said two civilians were killed and the wounded included 10 Iraqi soldiers, four policemen and four civilians.
The violence erupted as Iraq's incoming prime minister won the backing of Iraq's top Shiite cleric for his plan to disband militias, which the US believes is the key to calming sectarian strife and halting the country's slide toward civil war.

The endorsement of Prime Minister-designate Nouri al-Maliki's plan came during a meeting Thursday in Najaf with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. The ayatollah told al-Maliki, a Shiite tapped last weekend to form a new Iraqi government, that security should be his top priority.

"Therefore, weapons must be exclusively in the hands of government forces, and these forces must be built on a proper national basis so that their loyalty is to the country alone, not to political or other sides," a statement from al-Sistani's office said.

Al-Maliki plans to integrate militias, many of them linked to Shiite parties, into the army and police. To ensure their loyalty to the government, he wants to appoint defense and interior ministers without connections to militias.

Former militiamen who have joined government forces, especially those run by the Shiite-led Interior Ministry, have been widely accused by Sunni Arabs of operating as death squads targeting Sunni civilians.

Attempts by previous Iraqi governments to abolish militias have failed, and their numbers have grown, in part because US and Iraqi forces have been unable to guarantee public safety.

Al-Maliki has until late May to present his Cabinet to parliament, the final step in building a national unity government. The United States believes a government of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds will help calm sectarian passions and tamp down the Sunni-led insurgency so the 130,000 American troops can begin to go home.

(Chinadaily.com via agencies April 29, 2006)

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