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Insurgents target Sunni tribe, killing 22

Times Staff Writer

About 200 gunmen stormed two villages in Diyala province Thursday, killing at least 22 members of a Sunni Arab tribe and taking 15 women and children hostage in an attack thought to be retaliation for their renunciation of Al Qaeda-linked militants.

The dawn raid came after a mortar barrage on the villages of Tamim and Ibrahim Yahya, north of Baghdad in the volatile Tigris River valley where U.S.-led forces have been locked in battle with insurgents for weeks.

Residents of the villages include members of the 1920 Revolutionary Brigade, a Sunni militia now collaborating with U.S.-led troops to drive out insurgents and retake control of their region.

The gunmen destroyed the mosque shared by the two villages and killed the imam, Younis Hameed Abid, police said.

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At least 10 of the attackers were killed and 22 arrested by police and brigade militiamen who repelled the incursion, said Police Chief Ali Dilayyan of Baqubah, the provincial capital. But the militants seized eight women and seven children as they withdrew from the hourlong firestorm, he said. The fate of the hostages was unknown.

Insurgents rarely attack in large numbers because such assaults make them vulnerable to American air power and sophisticated weapons.

In Kirkuk, an ethnically divided city in northern Iraq, one of the nation’s most important oil regions, police raided a stronghold of the 1920 Revolutionary Brigade and arrested its leader, Zein Hameed Jassim. He was being interrogated about the militia’s operations around Kirkuk, said Brig. Gen. Sarhad Qadir.

Although the brigade has turned on the predominantly Sunni insurgents with whom it was once allied and is working with U.S. and Iraqi forces, many Iraqis remain suspicious of the militiamen and look askance at the weapons and backing they now receive.

Winning over Sunni tribes that support the insurgents has been a key U.S. strategy, first attempted in Al Anbar province, west of Baghdad. The success there has driven the effort in Diyala. Many Sunnis have switched allegiance in revulsion to the unbridled violence and destruction unleashed by the militants.

The dawn attack on the Diyala villages may have been a show of defiance as U.S.-led forces on Wednesday concluded a 12-day strike against suspected insurgents in the region.

The operation resulted in 50 villages being cleared, 26 suspected terrorists killed and 37 detained, said Col. David W. Sutherland, commander of U.S.-led forces in the province.

In Baghdad, six mortar rounds landed inside the high-security Green Zone compound where the U.S. Embassy and most Iraqi government institutions are located, said an Interior Ministry source. No casualties or structural damage was reported.

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An Iraqi was killed when a roadside bomb exploded outside a mosque in the capital’s New Baghdad neighborhood, and two others died in a mortar attack in the northern Al Thaalibiya district. Three bullet-riddled bodies were found in Bayaa, south Baghdad, including that of a policeman.

Two roadside bombs detonated near a U.S. convoy in northeast Baghdad, badly damaging a Humvee but apparently inflicting no casualties. The blasts occurred shortly before the 11 p.m. curfew, when the capital’s streets are empty.

In northern Iraq, gunmen in Mosul killed Othman Ali Khalid, a prominent member of the Muslim Scholars Assn.

A policeman was killed when a car with two corpses exploded while he was investigating it. The vehicle had been booby-trapped.

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In Basra, British forces returned fire on insurgents who launched rocket-propelled grenades at them, reported Maj. Matthew Bird.

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carol.williams@latimes.com

Special correspondents in Baqubah and Kirkuk contributed to this report.

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