Roadside bombs killed seven American troops in Iraq on Saturday, including four in a single strike outside Baghdad, the military said, as US and Iraqi troops captured two senior Al Qaeda gunmen in northern Iraq.Separately, a predawn operation by US forces working with Iraqi informants in Baghdad’s main Shiite district of Sadr City netted three other gunmen suspected of ties to Iran, the military said. The Americans have accused Iran of providing mainly Shiite militias with training and powerful roadside bombs known as explosively formed projectiles, or EFPs, that have killed hundreds of US troops in recent months.Roadside bombs, including EFPs and other makeshift devices used by Sunni and Shiite gunmen alike, are the No. 1 killer of foreign troops in Iraq and Saturday’s deaths were no exception. Roadside bombs killed four soldiers northwest of the capital, a US airman in Tikrit, and two US soldiers in eastern Baghdad whose unit has recently targeted bomb networks, the military said. In addition, a British soldier died Saturday of wounds from a roadside bombing the day before in the southern city of Basra. A US soldier also died Saturday of non-combat causes, the military said.
The US military also cracked down elsewhere in Iraq, saying in a statement that seven other Al Qaeda fighters were killed and 10 suspects detained in Tikrit, east of Fallujah, south of Baghdad and in Mosul.
It said the raid in Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown 130 kilometres north of Baghdad, was targeting a senior leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq. Two men were shot to death as they sped towards US forces in a vehicle that was found to have a roadside bomb on the backseat, and two others suspects believed to have tied to the militant leader were detained, the military said.
An Iraqi commander in Diyala province, Maj. Gen. Abdul Karim Rubaie, said earlier Saturday that two senior Al Qaeda gunmen had been detained there but the military said he apparently was referring to the raid in Tikrit, which is in neighbouring Salahuddin province.
The US military, meanwhile, said at least 55 Al Qaeda operatives have been killed and 23 detained since the start of Operation Arrowhead Ripper in Diyala.
It also said 16 weapons caches have been discovered, and 28 roadside bombs and 12 booby-trapped structures have been destroyed.
Earlier this week, creeping house-to-house through western Baqouba, US soldiers made a startling discovery: a suspected Al Qaeda field hospital stocked with oxygen tanks, heart defibrillators and other medical equipment.
The find displayed Al Qaeda’s sophisticated support network in Baqouba, a mostly Sunni city of about 300,000 people.
Baqouba has received little aid or other services from the central government, which feared supplies would end up with Al Qaeda. As the field hospital proved, much assistance did end up bypassing residents and found its way to the terrorist organisation.
“There are a multitude of systematic functions that aren’t working,” said Maj. Robbie Parke, 36, spokesman for the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. “The Iraqi government has to say, ‘Look, Baqouba is in trouble, and we need to helpâ€™.â€ So far that has not happened, US officials say. But there are signs of hope.
“The [Iraqi] government is very immature, but they’re getting better and saying the right things. We’ve got to hold them to that,” said Odierno, the ground forces commander.
He spoke to AP during a trip to Baqouba on Thursday as American forces began in earnest to squeeze Al Qaeda, Sunni insurgents and Shiite militiamen after the arrival of the final brigade of an additional 30,000 troops dispatched by President Bush.