- The Washington Times - Friday, July 21, 2006

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraqi forces backed by a U.S. helicopter battled Sunni gunmen south of Baghdad yesterday, and 18 persons died. U.S. troops killed five Iraqis — including two women and a child — in a separate exchange of fire.

An extended ban on vehicles held down violence yesterday in Baghdad after one of the most violent weeks in the capital this year, but four persons were wounded by a bomb outside a Sunni mosque, police said.

The deadly firefight occurred in two mostly Shi’ite neighborhoods of Mahmoudiya, a town 20 miles south of Baghdad where 50 persons, mainly Shi’ites, were killed in a market this week in an attack by Sunni gunmen.

At about 1:30 p.m. yesterday, gunmen opened fire in two neighborhoods of Mahmoudiya, Capt. Ibrahim Abdullah said. The army said the 18 dead included 11 attackers, four Iraqi soldiers and three policemen.

A U.S. attack helicopter was called in to provide air support and destroyed a truck used by the gunmen, U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Barry Johnson said.

“This effective suppression of an apparent death squad by the Iraqi security forces, assisted by the coalition, shows exactly how security forces are working together to stop the violence,” Col. Johnson said.

The civilian deaths came in an early morning raid in Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, where American troops were looking for associates of al Qaeda in Iraq, the U.S. military said.

The Americans took fire from a rooftop and “several men were seen moving around,” the military said. The troops ordered people to leave the building, but “these instructions were ignored,” it said.

A U.S. Marine was killed in action yesterday in western Iraq, the U.S. military said. The Marine was assigned to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. It was the 24th death this month among U.S. forces in Iraq. At least 2,558 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

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