Raid captures 6 ‘death squad’ members

BAGHDAD (AP) — US and Iraqi soldiers captured six members of an alleged “death squad”in Baghdad on Tuesday, hoping to quell the rampant sectarian violence dividing the capital, while attacks elsewhere in Iraq killed at least 30 people — including an American soldier.

In Baghdad, the US command said a soldier assigned to the 43rd Military Police Brigade was killed in action Tuesday north of Baghdad — the 34th death this month among US service members in Iraq. Representatives of Iraq’s ethnic and sectarian groups met in Cairo, Egypt, to discuss ways to reconcile. Some 30 delegates representing Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds and other smaller minorities participated in discussions sponsored by the Cairo-based Arab League.

The talks are intended to prepare for a national reconciliation conference in Baghdad next month. US officials believe control of Baghdad — the political, cultural, transport and economic hub of the country — will determine the future of Iraq.

“This is a duty for Iraqis to find out ways for ending this dilemma,”said Arab League Undersecretary General Ahmed Ben Heli, whose group sponsored the conference.

The six suspects, including a cell leader, were detained during a pre-dawn raid on four buildings in Baghdad, a US military statement said. It was not clear if those detained Tuesday were Sunnis or Shiites.

The killings gripping the capital accelerated after the February 22 bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra and have steadily increased despite the establishment of Prime Minister Nuri Maliki national unity government in May.

Many of the death squads are believed to be associated with either Sunni or Shiite armed groups, targeting rival sect members as part of a struggle for power between the country’s two major religious communities.

US officials have avoided identifying death squads and militias by sect, preferring instead to refer to them as criminals and thugs. Iraq’s army and police, which are heavily Shiite, have had trouble winning the trust of residents of majority Sunni neighbourhoods.

As a result, the top US commander in Iraq, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., has said more American troops will take to the streets to bolster Iraqi forces, especially in Sunni areas such as Dora, Amariya and Ghazaliyah.

In other violence Tuesday, the head of Saddam Hussein’s tribe was killed when gunmen attacked a meeting in the office of a prominent sheikh in Tikrit.

Mahmoud Ali Hussein Nida, head of the Baijat tribe, died following the attack at about 7:30pm Monday. The gunmen also killed a lawyer and wounded Sheikh Mizahim Mustafa, police Lt. Ahmed Asaad said. Two other civilians caught in the crossfire also were killed, Asaad said.

The Baijat tribe includes several clans, including Saddam’s Albu-Nassir clan. Nida was not directly related to Saddam.

In northeastern Baghdad, a suicide car bomber attacked a joint Iraqi-US checkpoint, killing three.

At least 11 bullet-riddled bodies were found dumped in two Baghdad neighbourhoods, police said.

Elsewhere, gunmen attacked a police checkpoint in Dujail, about 90 kilometres north of Baghdad, and ambushed a sport utility vehicle belonging to a private security company in north Baghdad, killing eight people.

A police lieutenant colonel and a police major were slain in separate drive-by shootings in the northern city of Mosul, police  reported. Gunmen also shot dead an employee of the Iraqi customs service in Mosul.

A parked car bomb near a police checkpoint in southern Baghdad’s Rissala neighborhood in Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib suburb exploded at 4:45pm, injuring five civilians, police said.

Five bodies were found in the streets of Muqdadiyah, about 90 kilometres northeast of Baghdad, in Diyala province.

US military commanders have struggled to quell the violence and have only recently intensified their efforts to disrupt groups of Sunni gunmen and Shiite militias responsible for much of the violence.

Last week, US and Iraqi forces conducted 19 operations specifically targeting death squads. All but two were in Baghdad.

“Clearly Baghdad is the centre that everybody is fighting for,” Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, spokesman for the US military in Baghdad, said this week. “We will do whatever it takes to bring security to Baghdad.” 

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