U.S., Iraqi Forces Kill 15 Rebels

Armed Iraqi insurgents stand guard around a street corner during clashes with American troops in Baqouba, some 65 kms northeast of Baghdad, Iraq Sunday July 25, 2004. American and Iraqi forces clashed with insurgents near the violence-wracked city of Baqouba early Sunday, killing 13 Iraqi militants, the U.S. military said. (AP Photo/Sami Aburaya)
U.S. and Iraqi troops backed by heavy artillery and helicopters killed 15 insurgents in fighting Sunday that began in palm groves and ended in dusty streets of a city north of Baghdad as violence surged throughout the country, the U.S. military said.

Iraqi forces and U.S. troops suffered no casualties from the fighting in Buhriz, about 40 miles north of Baghdad.

Qayser Hameed, an emergency worker at Baqouba General Hospital, said two dead Iraqis — a police officer and a civilian — and six injured civilians were brought to the hospital. Some of the casualties had bullet wounds, others had been hit by shrapnel, he said. It was unclear if the two dead in the hospital were in addition to the 15 dead reported by the military.

The battle came amid a surge of violence across Iraq that killed a U.S. soldier near the city of Beiji, a former Baghdad official and his son in the capital, two policemen south of Baghdad and five people in a string of attacks in the northern city of Kirkuk.

In other recent developments:

  • A group claiming to be al Qaeda's European branch posted a statement on an Islamic Web site demanding Australia, which has nearly 900 troops in and around Iraq, pull out or it would turn the country into "pools of blood."
  • Gunmen kidnapped the head of an Iraqi government-owned construction company in Baghdad on Saturday, a brazen daylight attack in a new wave of hostage-taking across the country. The adduction came a day after a senior Egyptian diplomat was snatched as he came out of a mosque.
  • U.S. soldiers captured 15 members of a suspected terrorist cell in eastern Iraq on Sunday, the military said.
  • A new report from the U.S. Army says 39 prisoners have died in U.S. custody in Iraq and Afghanistan and there have been 94 cases of proven or suspected abuse, including one case in which troops conspired to make Iraqis jump off a bridge. Numerous investigations are continuing.

    Iraq has been plagued by a 15-month-old insurgency marked by car bombings, assassinations and kidnappings that were part of an effort to push out coalition forces, hamper reconstruction efforts and generate chaos.

    The clashes south of Buhriz occurred when U.S. and Iraqi National Guard forces entered an area of palm groves early Sunday and destroyed a suspected staging ground used by insurgents for attacks on coalition and Iraqi troops, said Maj. Neal O'Brien, spokesman for the 1st Infantry Division.

    During the raid, insurgents attacked Iraqi National Guard forces with small arms and the Iraqi troops chased the attackers into the southern section of the town, O'Brien told The Associated Press.

    About 11 a.m., the Iraqi fighters began firing mortars indiscriminately, and the U.S. responded with artillery fire, he said.

    Associated Press Television News footage recorded several loud explosions, apparently from artillery and mortar fire, booming through Buhriz and bullets ricocheting off building and shop walls, sending residents running for cover. A U.S. Apache helicopter hovered overhead.

    Local Iraqi fighters, some wearing white robes and red scarves over their faces but most clad in black clothing and ski masks, roamed the streets carrying rifles and rocket propelled grenade launchers.

    Buhriz, a former stronghold of ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has been the scene of previous clashes between coalition forces and Iraqi insurgents.

    The clashes Sunday killed 15 insurgents, and the U.S. military confiscated an array of weapons, including three 120 mm mortar rounds, one 155 mm artillery round and three rocket propelled grenade launchers, O'Brien said.

    The battle also killed Yasir Ahmed Ismail inside his house when a mortar hit nearby, according to police Lt. Mohammed Adel.

    APTN footage showed blood all over the courtyard of Ismail's house. Mourners carrying his coffin to the Buhriz mosque chanted "There is no God but God, America is the enemy of God."

    Meanwhile, violence surged across the country.

    One U.S. soldier was killed and another injured when a roadside bomb exploded as they were escorting a fuel convoy, the military said Sunday. The explosion Saturday afternoon occurred outside the city of Beiji, about 90 miles south of the northern city of Mosul, U.S. Army spokesman Master Sgt. Robert Powell said.

    In the Baghdad suburb of al-Dora, gunmen killed Brig. Khaled Dawoud, the former head of Baghdad's Nahyia district under Saddam Hussein, and his son in a drive-by shooting about 8:30 a.m. Sunday, police Lt. Mustafa Abdullah al-Dulaimi said. Dawoud's son was not identified.

    The car was raked with bullet holes, its windows shattered and its interior covered in blood, according to APTN footage.

    Gunmen also killed two policemen Sunday morning as they traveled to work at the Mahmoudiya police station about 25 miles south of Baghdad, police Lt. Alla Hussein said. The attackers escaped.

    In the northern city of Kirkuk, where residents include Arabs, Kurds and Turkomen, a spate of violence killed five people, police said.

    An Iraqi policeman was slain by unknown gunmen in a passing car about 8:30 a.m. Sunday while waiting for a ride home after his shift guarding a pipeline, said Col. Sarhad Qadir, of the Kirkuk police.

    Assailants sprayed gunfire at the house of a Kurdish family in a predominantly Arab area in southern Kirkuk, killing a woman and two of her sons and injuring her daughter, Qadir said.

    In another attack, an unknown gunman killed Shirwan Jilal, a fighter with the pro-U.S. Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party, in a drive-by shooting about 11 p.m. Saturday as he walked home, Qadir said.

    Gunmen also attacked police forces patrolling in southern Kirkuk on Sunday, injuring an officer, he said.

    Qadir blamed the attacks on "a gang of criminals related to the previous regime who want to create feuds between Arabs and Kurds."

    As part of its efforts to break the insurgency, U.S. soldiers captured 15 members of a suspected terrorist cell at 5:30 a.m. Sunday near Mandali, a town on the Iranian border about 60 miles east of Baghdad, according to the military.

    Also Sunday, Iraqi police closed off one of Baghdad's main traffic arteries as people gathered in a former country club to choose delegates to the upcoming Iraqi national conference. About 540 people from towns outside Baghdad were to select 20 men and six women to be part of the 1,000 delegates at the meeting.

    The national conference was expected to take place this week, but organizers, worried about security, have refused to say when and where. Conference delegates will meet over three days to select 100 people to the National Assembly, which will help prepare for elections to be held by January.

    The nascent efforts at solidifying the post-Saddam regime came amid a wave of kidnappings that were damaging efforts to stabilize and rebuild the country.

    On Friday, kidnappers captured Mohammed Mamdouh Helmi Qutb, described as the third-ranking diplomat at the Egyptian mission here, as he walked out of a mosque. The militants said they had taken Qutb to deter Egypt from sending troops.

    Gunmen on Saturday dressed as police snatched Raad Adnan, general director of Al-Mansour Contracting Co., an Iraqi-government owned firm, in an audacious daylight operation in southeastern Baghdad. No demands have been revealed.

    Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi urged Egypt on Saturday to stand fast in the face of the kidnapping. "It is time for us to close ranks to fight terrorism. There is no way to budge to terrorists and give them what they want," he said.