Iraq: 3 killed as Al-Qaida suspects attack checkpoints

Two of the insurgents killed, another captured in battle with American troops; US soldier killed in separate incident.

Iraq weeping  224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Iraq weeping 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Sixty suspected al-Qaida in Iraq fighters hit national police facilities in a coordinated attacks in Samarra, sparking two hours of fighting that saw three people killed and more than a dozen insurgents captured, police said Friday. The masked attackers drove into the city at dusk Thursday in about 20 vehicles, including pickups with machine-guns, then split into small groups and assaulted four police checkpoints and a headquarters building, a Samarra police official said. One policeman and two civilians - a woman and an 11-year-old girl - were killed in the fighting in the city 95 kilometers north of Baghdad, and nine others were injured including a police commando and three children. There were no details on insurgent casualties, but police arrested 14 suspects, the spokesman said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information. Lt. Col. Michael Donnelly, a US military spokesman in northern Iraq, said he had no details on the incident reported by Samarra police, but that an American patrol got into a firefight with gunmen in the city on Friday. Two of the insurgents were killed and another captured, Donnelly said. There were no immediate reports of US casualties. The US command reported that one soldier was killed in an explosion Friday in Salahuddin province, which includes Samarra, and four soldiers were wounded. It was unclear whether the incident was the same one reported by Donnelly. In the capital, US forces in Baghdad's primarily Shiite neighborhood of Shula clashed with insurgents, killing eight. The skirmish broke out when a pre-dawn Humvee patrol came under small arms and machine-gun fire from rooftops and called in helicopter support, said US Army spokesman Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl. Nassar al-Rubaie, head of a 30-member bloc in parliament loyal to anti-US Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr held a press conference in Najaf saying 21 civilians were killed, a "large number" wounded, and several houses destroyed in the Shula fighting. He blamed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, saying the Shiite-led government is weak and can do nothing in the face of the occupation - Shula is now regarded as a front line." Al-Sadr's main office in Baghdad reported 14 civilians killed and 20 others injured. Bleichwehl disputed the accounts, saying there all of the people killed had been positively identified as enemy fighters, and that there were no civilian casualties and no collateral damage. US troops discovered a weapons cache, and continued to search for more weapons in the area, he added. But an official at Noor Hospital in Shula said bodies of 13 people were brought to the facility along with seven badly wounded people. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of fears for his personal safety, and his claim could not be independently confirmed. In southern Iraq, authorities in Muthanna province imposed a province-wide curfew after an attack on al-Sadr's offices in a town near the provincial capital Samawah, about 370 kilometers southeast of Baghdad. Two of al-Sadr's offices were demolished after being hit with rocket-propelled grenade fire, police said. The buildings were empty at the time and no casualties were reported, but authorities feared the cleric's followers might seek retribution. "Because of the fear that reprisals might take place during Friday prayers, a decision was taken to impose the curfew across the province," local politician Ahmed Marzuq said. Elsewhere, the US command said Friday that Iraqi troops and US Special Forces raided a home in the Hit area and seized an al-Qaida suspect believed to have shot down an American helicopter in 2004. The forces detained the suspect and a "second person of interest" in the Wednesday raid, and found an assault rifle as well as numerous identification cards and passports. In addition to the helicopter attack, the primary suspect - whose name was not released - is believed to be involved in roadside bombing and sniper attacks on US and Iraqi forces in the region, 140 kilometers west of Baghdad, the military said in a statement. US forces also reported killing seven insurgents and detaining 12 others in operations to disrupt al-Qaida in central and northern Iraq. In the biggest raid, troops returned to an area east of Tarmiyah, 50 kilometers north of Baghdad, where they killed 13 terrorist suspects and captured 12 others a week earlier, based on information from local Iraqis, said spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Garver. The US forces were engaged by two gunmen on arrival and killed both. As the American troops worked to secure a group of buildings they encountered five separate armed men, and killed them when they drew their weapons, Garver said. Four other terrorist suspects were detained, and a total of nine of the men killed or captured were positively identified as people named in intelligence reports, Garver said. "With the help of the Iraqi community, we basically crippled this cell," he said. Three other operations in the Tigris River valley rounded up eight suspected terrorists, Garver added.