U.S. troops join Iraqis in patrolling city torn by sectarian killings

Tuesday, October 17th 2006, 9:51 am
By: News On 6

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ U.S. troops joined Iraqi forces and police Tuesday in patrolling the city of Balad, where a surge in sectarian fighting has killed at least 91 people.

American and Iraqi officials said the violence in the city 50 miles north of Baghdad has eased but not stopped.

Unidentified gunmen in police uniforms hijacked 13 civilian cars and abducted their occupants at a checkpoint outside Balad on Monday night after the post had shut down for the night, an officer at the Salahuddin provincial police headquarters said.

He said those abducted were taken to another neighborhood nearby, but there was no further word on their fate. The officer spoke only on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to media.

By Tuesday morning, the U.S. military said American forces had responded to Iraqi requests to back up security forces in the town, which lies near a major U.S. air base an hour's drive north of the capital. As the violence had raged over the weekend, the American military initially said it had not been asked for help.

``By coordinating all of our efforts, we have seen a marked decrease in violence in the past 24 hours,'' said Lt. Col. Jeffery Martindale, commander of 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division. He said U.S. forces were also firing back at insurgents launching mortar attacks on civilians in the area.

Martindale also said U.S. troops detained a pair of Iraqi police officers in the neighboring Sunni town of Duluiyah. The men were suspected of being involved in the slaying of 17 Shiite Muslim workers last week that sparked a wave of revenge killings by Shiite militiamen, Martindale said.

That announcement reflects claims that local security forces have aided both sides in the sectarian fighting. Sunnis fleeing Balad across the Tigris River to Duluiyah said Shiite police in the city had teamed up with death squads who killed at least 74 Sunnis.

Hadi al-Amiri, the head of the Iraqi parliament's security committee, said Balad was being blockaded to prevent more fighters from entering.

``There are still painful incidents in there,'' said al-Amiri, a key member of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution, Iraq's main Shiite religious party.

Iraq's Shiite-dominated Interior Ministry said removed two officers in charge of commando units as part of its restructuring plan of the national police force.

Brig. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, the ministry's spokesman, said the two officers _ Maj. Gen. Rashid Filah and Maj. Gen. Mahdi Sabbih _ were transferred from their posts but denied their removal was a demotion or had anything to do with widespread allegations that police commandos were involved in some of the violence directed against Sunni Arabs.

``The leadership of the national police was changed to restructure the Interior Ministry,'' said Khalaf, flanked by Filah and Sabbih in business suits, rather than the camouflage fatigues associated with Iraq's police commandos.

Across Iraq, bombings and shootings killed at least 32 people, including 10 who died in shootings in the southern, predominantly Shiite city of Basra, 340 miles southeast of Baghdad.

Among those killed by gunmen in both police and civilian vehicles were four students outside the city's university and a well-known doctor who was leaving her house for work, said a Basra police captain speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

In Karmah, 50 miles west of Baghdad, a roadside bomb killed five Iraqi soldiers as their convoy passed through the town, police Lt. Ahmed Ali said.

Gunmen stormed into the house of a Shiite family in Balad Ruz, 45 miles northeast of Baghdad before dawn Tuesday, killing the mother and four adult sons and injuring the father, provincial police official Khalil Yacoub said.

Iraqi deaths also are running at a high rate. According to an Associated Press count, 708 Iraqis have been reported killed in war-related violence this month, or more than 44 a day, compared with a daily average of more than 27 since the AP began tracking deaths in April 2005.