U.S.-led troops kill suspected insurgents

Times Staff Writer

American-led forces said they killed 17 suspected insurgents early Sunday in a strife-racked area north of Baghdad, while gunmen ambushed and killed 17 Iraqi police officers near the southern city of Basra.

Iraqi police said a bomb killed 31 day laborers today and wounded more than 50 others in the Shiite Muslim neighborhood of Sadr City in Baghdad.

Ambulances and passenger vehicles ferried the injured to nearby hospitals.

Many of the corpses at the bombing scene were charred. Shoes and pieces of clothing were scattered about, as was the wreckage of kiosks that sold food, tea and cigarettes to the laborers.


Also today, gunmen assassinated Issam Rawi, a leading Sunni Arab politician, and the U.S. announced the death of a Marine on Sunday in Al Anbar province.

The latest bursts of violence came as U.S. and Iraqi leaders have sought to ease differences over the best way to deal with armed Shiite and Sunni Arab Muslim groups responsible for killing hundreds of people in recent months.

On Saturday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki urged President Bush to give him more authority over security forces as part of a bid to battle Sunni insurgents and curb Shiite militias tied to groups that are part of his political following. There were no reports Sunday of new discussions between the two administrations over security issues.

And in a sign that death-squad killings were resuming in earnest after a brief downturn, more than 30 bodies, many bearing signs of torture, were discovered across Baghdad.

In fighting near the town of Balad, north of Baghdad, U.S. aircraft struck at two bands of guerrillas armed with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons who were preparing attacks on troops, the military said in a statement.

The first strike killed four militants; the second, carried out in concert with troops on the ground, killed 13, the military said.

The attacks set off secondary explosions, the military said, suggesting that the insurgents were carrying improvised bombs or other ordnance.

No U.S. troops were hurt and three suspected militants were detained, the statement said.

Police in Duluiya, near Balad, said a U.S. shell hit a house, killing 11 people and injuring six others. It was not immediately clear whether it was the same incident as described by the U.S. military.

The largely Shiite city of Balad, about 50 miles north of Baghdad, has been locked in conflict with its Sunni neighbors. The violence escalated this month after 14 Shiite construction workers from Balad were slain in Duluiya. Those slayings set off a day of reprisal attacks against Sunnis in Balad, leaving dozens dead. Armed groups from Sunni communities around Balad, in turn, fired mortars into the town as the cycle of violence continued.

In neighboring Diyala province, five Iraqi soldiers were killed Sunday when a roadside bomb exploded in the town of Buhriz, just outside Baqubah.

Dozens of Iraqi police and soldiers have been killed in attacks during the last week, underscoring the steep challenges that the Maliki government faces in quelling violence.

In Sunday’s attack south of Basra, which is mostly populated by Shiites, gunmen stopped a minivan and killed the 17 police officers on board, said Capt. Tane Dunlop, a British military spokesman. He said it was the first large-scale attack on police in the Basra area in recent memory.

In a pair of incidents, gunmen in Diyala killed seven Sunni pilgrims on their way to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. And in Baqubah, assailants shot and killed two Iraqi police officers and a civilian, authorities said.

U.S. and Iraqi forces, meanwhile, maintained a cordon of checkpoints in sections of Baghdad as they searched for an American soldier of Iraqi descent who was believed to have been kidnapped a week ago.

American troops for days have restricted traffic and searched cars at the entrances to the teeming Sadr City neighborhood, a stronghold of the Shiite militia tied to the anti-American cleric Muqtada Sadr.


Times staff writers and special correspondents in Baghdad; Baqubah; and Taji, Iraq, contributed to this report.