US drive into Iraqi capital

A joint US/Iraqi drive to wrest back control of Baghdad from militias appears to be making progress, with no major incidents in the capital today.US and Iraqi units were pushing into central city districts that have been the scene of recent sectarian carnage.

In Washington, the House of Representatives will vote today on a resolution criticising the Bush administration for the decision to send extra troops to Iraq.

The resolution is not binding, but the result may encourage the majority Democrats to attempt to change the US Iraq policy by a further vote.

Earlier, security forces arrested 35 members of the Soldiers of Heaven, a minority Shia cult, during raids in Hilla, south of Baghdad.

The round-up was the latest blow to an extremist armed sect after a recent battle with US and Iraqi security forces saw at least 263 members killed.

Unconfirmed reports overnight said the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq had been injured in clashes north of Baghdad.

Iraqi Interior Ministry officials said that Abu Ayyub al-Masri had been wounded in a confrontation with government forces.

Mr al-Masri, an Egyptian, assumed the leadership of al-Qaeda in Iraq after Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed in a US air strike in June last year.

A US military spokesman in Baghdad said he had no information on the reports.

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