- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 27, 2007

BAGHDAD — American forces freed 42 kidnapped Iraqis — some of whom had been hung from ceilings and tortured for months — in a raid yesterday on an al Qaeda hide-out north of Baghdad, the U.S. military said.

Military officials said the operation, based on tips from residents, showed that Iraqis in the turbulent Diyala province were turning against Sunni insurgents and beginning to trust U.S. troops.

“The people in Diyala are speaking up against al Qaeda,” said Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, the top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq.

Elsewhere in Diyala, a U.S. soldier was killed when an explosion hit his vehicle, and a second soldier was killed in an explosion in Baghdad, the military said. The deaths brought the number of troops killed this month to at least 102, putting May on pace to become the deadliest month for Americans in more than 2 years.

In other violence, a barrage of mortar rounds struck houses in a Shi’ite village just northeast of Baghdad, killing three women and a child and wounding seven other children, Baghdad police said.

A suicide car bomber attacked an army checkpoint in Musayyib, about 40 miles south of Baghdad, killing two Iraqi soldiers.

Gunmen also killed the renowned Baghdad calligrapher Khalil Mohammed al-Zahawi in a drive-by shooting in a Shi’ite dominated area in eastern Baghdad, police said. Mr. al-Zahawi, 52, who was also a lecturer at Baghdad University, was waiting for a taxi on a main road when the gunmen sped past.

U.S. military officials have said they expected insurgents to step up attacks as U.S.-led forces worked to crack down on violence in Baghdad and the surrounding areas during their 14-week-old security operation.

As part of the crackdown, the military sent 3,000 more U.S. troops to Diyala, a turbulent province north of Baghdad that has experienced heavy fighting in recent weeks. Yesterday’s raid, the military said, was a sign that the increase was working.

“The more contact we have [with] the Iraqi citizens, the more confidence that they develop in us and in the Iraqi police and the Iraqi army. That leads to greater cooperation from the Iraqi citizenry,” said Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, a U.S. military spokesman.

Some of the men suffered broken bones. Some had been captive for as long as four months. One said he was just 14 years old, Gen. Caldwell said.

The 42 freed Iraqis marked the largest number of captives ever found in a single al Qaeda prison, he said.

Meanwhile, in Kut, 100 miles southeast of Baghdad, 70 police officers resigned from an elite police unit and handed over their weapons, saying they were afraid of the Mahdi Army militia of the radical Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, police said.

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