- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 23, 2005

From combined dispatches

BAGHDAD — U.S. and Iraqi forces raided a suspected guerrilla training camp and killed 85 fighters, the single biggest one-day death toll for militants in months and the latest in a series of blows to the insurgency, Iraqi officials said yesterday.

The U.S. military announced late Tuesday that its air and ground forces backed Iraqi commandos during a noontime raid on the suspected training camp near Lake Tharthar in central Iraq. Seven commandos died in fighting, said the U.S. military, which did not give a death toll for the militants.

Iraqi officials said yesterday 85 insurgents died in the clash — the largest number killed in a single battle since the U.S. Marines-led November attack on the former militant stronghold of Fallujah left more than 1,000 dead.

However, reporters who visited the site yesterday saw about 30 to 40 fighters, who still were in control and who reported that they had never left, Agence France-Press (AFP) reported.

An AFP reporter, who traveled with other journalists to the camp in the village of Ain al-Hilwa on Lake Tharthar, 120 miles north of Baghdad, said he saw the remains of three burned vehicles on a dusty road leading to the site.

A few mud huts were damaged and big craters gouged the ground.

One of the fighters, who called himself Mohammed Amer and claimed to belong to the Secret Islamic Army, said they never had left the base.

He also said only 11 of his comrades were killed in airstrikes on the site.

Also yesterday, a mortar shell or rocket struck an elementary school in western Baghdad, killing at least one child and injuring three others, according to a police official who asked not to be identified out of fear of retribution by attackers.

Children fled the schoolhouse, abandoning backpacks and books on desks littered with glass shards. One teacher wept outside as parents rushed to the scene.

Hours later, a policeman trying to defuse a roadside bomb in Baghdad died and another officer was wounded when the device exploded, police Capt. Talib Thamir said.

On the political front, Abbas Hassan Mousa al-Bayati, a top member of the United Iraqi Alliance, said negotiators from his Shi’ite-dominated bloc and a Kurdish coalition could tap a Sunni Arab to head the Defense Ministry, which oversees the Iraqi army battling the insurgency.

“The Defense Ministry will go to a Sunni Arab because we do not want Arab Sunnis to feel that they are marginalized,” Mr. al-Bayati told the Associated Press.

“They will be given one of the four major posts because we want them to feel that they are part of the political formula.”

Sunni Arabs, dominant under ousted dictator Saddam Hussein, largely stayed away from the Jan. 30 balloting amid calls for them to boycott and threats against voters by the Sunni-led insurgency.

Political leaders have, in the past, announced plans on filling Cabinet positions, only to reverse themselves later.

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