The U.S. military said Thursday that it had detained two militants from Al Qaeda in Iraq wanted in connection with the capture of three American soldiers in May.
The suspects were seized Tuesday during an air and ground assault near the city of Iskandariya, 25 miles south of Baghdad.
The paratroopers struck the town of Jurf al Sakhar near the border of the western province of Al Anbar, which until recently was a sanctuary for Islamic extremists.
Three soldiers -- Pvt. Byron W. Fouty, Spc. Alex R. Jimenez and Pfc. Joseph J. Anzack Jr. -- were captured May 12 when fighters ambushed two U.S. Humvees on stakeout. Four other U.S. soldiers and an Iraqi soldier serving as an interpreter were found dead at the scene of the attack, outside the town of Yousifiya south of the capital.
The body of Anzack, who was from Torrance, was found floating in the Euphrates River days later. An umbrella insurgent group, including Al Qaeda in Iraq, later said in an online video that it had executed the two missing soldiers and showed their dog tags.
In Baghdad on Thursday, clashes between U.S. soldiers and Shiite Muslim militants in an eastern neighborhood left 19 people dead and 21 wounded, police and hospital officials said. A police officer said 10 of the dead were civilians.
The U.S. military confirmed that it had killed nine insurgents and two civilians during the fighting. Thirteen people were detained, it said in a statement.
The fighting in the capital’s Amin district was sparked by a U.S. raid before dawn. The military said two militants suspected of conducting kidnappings and bombings were apprehended. Armed men retaliated by firing rocket-propelled grenades at U.S. troops in a neighboring building.
U.S. soldiers returned to Amin later in the morning, triggering a shootout and a barrage of mortar fire, police said.
Among those killed in the clash were an Iraqi photographer and driver employed by Reuters, the London-based news agency said. Hospital officials identified them as photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen, 22, and driver Saeed Chmagh, 40.
The two militants detained during the initial raid were members of “the special groups,” an offshoot of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr’s Al Mahdi militia, the military said. U.S. officials assert that the cells are being supported by Iran.
Since the spring, U.S. troops have intensified their raids into Shiite sections of Baghdad on the hunt for key leaders in Al Mahdi-affiliated groups thought to be involved in sectarian killings.
Twenty-eight bodies were discovered around the capital Thursday, 22 of them in west Baghdad, where Shiite and Sunni Muslim militants are fighting for control of mixed districts.
A suicide bomber attacked a wedding party in Tall Afar, a town 240 miles northwest of Baghdad, killing four civilians and wounding five, Police Chief Brig. Gen. Ibrahim Jubouri said. Tall Afar has been plagued by attacks on its Shiite population by Sunni extremists. A suicide attack in March by a militant offering free flour from a truck sparked a rampage by Shiite off-duty policemen. More than 150 died in the blast and reprisal attacks.
A U.S. soldier died in an attack east of Baghdad, the military said Thursday, but gave no details. At least 3,611 U.S. military personnel have been killed in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion, according to the website icasualties.org, which tracks deaths and injuries in the conflict.
Times staff writers Saif Rasheed, Saif Hameed, Said Rifai and Zeena Kareem contributed to this report.