Fighting shuts down city of Baqouba as Iraqi leader holds summit with Bush

Wednesday, November 29th 2006, 6:22 am
By: News On 6

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ Fierce fighting Wednesday between coalition forces and insurgents shut down the Iraqi city of Baqouba, which has been roiled by violence in recent days, killing scores of militants and civilians.

Suspected insurgents attacked the police headquarters in downtown Baqouba, sparking a clash with police that left five of the attackers dead, police said on condition of anonymity, as they regularly do to protect themselves.

Coalition forces backed by U.S. aircraft also killed eight al-Qaida in Iraq insurgents during a raid near the city that also left two Iraqi women dead, the U.S. military said.

The early morning attack was aimed at detaining Iraqis who were running a known cell of insurgents, the U.S. command said. The soldiers called in air support after coming under heavy fire from rifles and machine guns, the command said.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki arrived in Jordan for meetings Wednesday and Thursday with President Bush aimed at halting escalating sectarian violence and paving the way for a reduction of U.S. troops. Lawmakers and Cabinet ministers loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr promptly suspended participation in parliament and the government to protest the meeting.

The political bloc is a mainstay of support for al-Maliki.

A statement issued by the 30 lawmakers and six Cabinet ministers said their boycott was necessary because the meeting constituted a ``provocation to the feelings of the Iraqi people and a violation of their constitutional rights.'' The statement did not explain that claim.

``This visit hijacked the will of the people during days when the sons of Iraq write their destiny with blood and not ink,'' said the statement, which referred to Bush as ``cursed,'' the ``world's biggest evil'' and a ``criminal.''

In Baqouba, capital of Diyala province about 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, the university, public schools and many stores remained closed, and the city's streets were mostly empty, except for a few people who dashed out to small fruit or vegetable stalls to stock up on food.

In a city with a crumbling infrastructure, few residents had electricity and most only received limited water supplies. Many Shiites and Sunnis have fled neighborhoods where they live in a minority, seeking refuge with relatives in nearby provinces or, if they have the money, in neighboring Jordan and Syria.

Widespread fighting has raged in the area for several days. On Tuesday, Diyala police said they found 11 bullet-riddled bodies around Baqouba. Over the weekend, fighting between Iraqi security forces and Sunni Arab insurgents left more than 50 militants dead and dozens wounded.

In all, 15 civilians and 13 insurgents were killed in violence around Iraq on Wednesday, police and U.S. officials said. The mangled bodies of nine civilians who had been kidnapped and tortured also were found, police said.

The day's casualties included four Iraqis who were killed and 35 wounded by four mortar attacks, three roadside bombs and a car bomb in Baghdad, police said.

In addition, the U.S. military announced the deaths of two more American soldiers.

A U.S. Army soldier died Wednesday from wounds suffered in fighting in Anbar province, the large region of desert and isolated towns west of Baghdad, the command said. A roadside bomb the day before killed another Army soldier and wounded another in Salahuddin province.

That raised to at least 2,883 the number of U.S. service members who have died since the Iraq war began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

In other fighting Wednesday, insurgents killed four policemen and wounded four others in a coordinated attack on a police station in Samarra northwest of Baghdad involving a suicide car bomb and militants armed with guns and rocket-propelled grenades, said police Capt. Laith Mohammed.

In another town in Salahuddin province, suspected insurgents attacked a police checkpoint, killing two policemen and wounding two others, Mohammed said.

In Baghdad, gunfire could be heard for much of the morning near the Green Zone, the heavily fortified area on the Tigris River where Iraq's parliament, U.S. soldiers and American and British embassies are based.

Two mortar rounds also exploded near the Health Ministry, wounding two civilians, said police Lt. Ali Muhsin. Guards at the building opened fire randomly after the attack, he said.

On Tuesday, U.S. soldiers fought with suspected insurgents in Ramadi, the capital of violence-torn Anbar province to the west of Baghdad, killing six Iraqis: one man and five females, including an infant.

That fighting began after a coalition patrol discovered a roadside bomb in the Hamaniyah section of Ramadi and saw two Iraqi men flee to a house where they took up position on the roof, the military said. U.S. soldiers attacked the building and found the six bodies inside after the fight, the military said.

It accused the militants of risking the lives of civilians by using the building as a safe house for insurgents.

In New York on Tuesday, U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to extend for one year the mandate of the 160,000-strong multinational force in Iraq. The Security Council responded to a request from al-Maliki, who said a top government priority is to assume full responsibility for security and stability throughout Iraq but that it needs more time.