- The Washington Times - Monday, September 17, 2007

From combined dispatches

BAGHDAD — Dozens of insurgents raided Shi’ite villages north of Baghdad yesterday, killing at least 15 persons and setting homes ablaze, police reported. A bicycle bomb detonated in a cafe serving tea and food during the Ramadan fast in northern Iraq.

On the political front, a spokesman for the movement led by militant cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said it has no immediate plan to bring down Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government.

The movement announced a day earlier that it was pulling out of the ruling Shi’ite alliance, leaving Mr. al-Maliki with the support of only about half of the legislature’s 275 lawmakers.

“We have many reservations about Maliki’s government, but we haven’t discussed a vote of no confidence yet because it’s still too early to talk about this matter,” said Salah al-Ubaidi.

The surge of bloodshed — in which 54 persons were killed or found dead nationwide yesterday — came a day after al Qaeda in Iraq announced a new campaign for the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

But the U.S. military insisted that it had the group on the run and said a man thought responsible for the assassination of a U.S.-allied Sunni tribal leader in Anbar province had been arrested north of Baghdad.

Until his death Thursday, Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha, 37, was the leader of Anbar Awakening — an alliance of clans backing the Iraqi government and U.S. forces against al Qaeda in Iraq that was touted as a success story of the war.

The U.S. military said an al Qaeda militant linked to his death was seized Saturday during a raid on three buildings west of Balad, and the search continues for other suspects.

Brig. Gen. Joe Anderson, chief of staff to the No. 2 commander in Iraq, said al Qaeda fighters were “off-balance” and had “clearly been neutralized” in Baghdad.

“They are very fractured. It’s very localized and the ability for them to conduct large-scale, sensational attacks has been greatly decreased,” Gen. Anderson said at a news conference.

Police said yesterday’s violence included the deaths of nine civilians killed by security contractors who opened fire in the heart of Baghdad.

The U.S. Embassy said contractors working for the State Department were involved in an incident in Baghdad but provided no further details, saying an investigation is under way.

In the raids on the Shi’ite villages of Jichan and Ghizlayat, the fighters arrived from several directions and residents fought back until Iraqi security forces arrived and forced the attackers to flee to nearby farms.

Iraqi police and army officials said 15 persons were killed and 10 wounded, including two children, in the clashes about 60 miles north of Baghdad.

Farther north, a booby-trapped bicycle exploded in the religiously mixed town of Tuz Khormato, killing at least five persons and wounding 19.

No one took responsibility, but the attack bore the hallmark of Sunni insurgents led by al Qaeda and underscored militants’ ability to find new ways to thwart stringent security measures.

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