U.S.-Iraqi Forces Retake Village Attacked By Insurgents

Wednesday, July 11th 2007, 6:43 am
By: News On 6

BAGHDAD (AP) _ U.S. and Iraqi forces drove out Sunni extremists who had attacked a remote village northeast of Baghdad, a U.S. commander said Wednesday.

The militants had fled north from a U.S. offensive in the city of Baqouba, where American forces are fighting to uproot al-Qaida in Iraq fighters and other Sunni insurgents who used the area to attack nearby Baghdad, Lt. Col. Fred Johnson told The Associated Press in Baqouba.

The fighters attacked the village of Sherween, 35 miles to the northeast, on Monday, sparking a fierce battle with armed residents trying to defend their homes, according to the deputy governor of Diyala province, Auf Rahim, who received a call from residents Tuesday pleading for help from the Iraqi army.

Rahim said he was told by the residents that the fighters had taken over the village in fighting that killed dozens from both sides.

A U.S. and Iraqi army force moved into the village Tuesday night and drove out the insurgents in a battle that left at least 19 extremists dead, Johnson said. He did not comment on any casualties among the coalition forces.

Johnson said dozens of insurgents had attacked the village, aiming to ``raise the morale'' of their fighters after defeats in Baqouba and other parts of Diyala.

U.S. commanders say they are making progress in clearing Baqouba, but insurgents fleeing the city have moved further north in an attempt to reconsolidate, carrying out deadly suicide bombings over the weekend. Iraqi politicians have complained that Iraqi security forces are not able to protect all areas and have called for locals to be armed.

American officials acknowledge Iraqi security forces are unable to stand on their own despite three years of efforts to train them. The weaknesses of Iraqi security forces _ and questions over how soon they could control the country on their own _ have complicated the war debate in Washington as domestic pressure mounts for an American withdrawal.

The three-week-old Baqouba offensive is part of an intensified security crackdown in and around Baghdad aimed at pacifying the capital so that the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki can pass political reforms. U.S. officials hope the reforms can sway Sunni Arab support from the insurgency to the government and reduce Iraq's violence.

Violence has eased in Baghdad amid the crackdown, though militants have still been able to carry out deadly attacks. A barrage of mortars hit the Green Zone _ the heavily fortified central district where al-Maliki's offices and the U.S. Embassy are located _ killing three people Tuesday, including an American.

In northern Iraq, gunmen kidnapped a senior security offical _ Abdul Razzaq Aseel al-Assal, the director of the joint security committee in the city of Mosul _ a police official said. Brig. Abdul Karim Al-Jubouri in Mosul said al-Assal was snatched earlier this week as he visited his family in Baghdad's Sunni neighborhood of Azamiyah.

In the south, the top police chief in the city of Basra came under an assassination attempt as he left a British base late Tuesday, the British military said. Gunmen opened fire on Maj. Gen. Jalil Khalaf, forcing him back into the base, it said in a statement. Iraqi police said a roadside bomb also blew up as his convoy tried to pass, wounding two of his guards.

Al-Maliki assured visiting British lawmakers on Tuesday that Iraqi security forces would be able to take over security duties in the city as scheduled at the beginning of September.

On Wednesday, Germany's foreign minister said a German woman who was kidnapped in Iraq has been released after 155 days in captivity, but her son is still being held hostage, Hannelore Krause, 61, and her adult son, Sinan, disappeared in Iraq on Feb. 6.

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told reporters that the mother had been free since Tuesday afternoon and was now at the German Embassy in Baghdad, but said he could give no details of how she was released.

``For all that we are relieved about the release of Mrs. Krause, pressing uncertainty remains over the fate of her son, who remains a hostage,'' Steinmeier said. He pledged that Germany would continue to do all it can to secure his release.

The mother and son were shown twice in videos released by an insurgent group calling itself ``Arrows of Righteousness,'' which first claimed to have snatched the two on March 10. In both of the videos _ released in March and April _ the group threatened to kill the hostages if Germany did not comply with an ultimatum to start withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan within 10 days.