- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 9, 2007

BAGHDAD — U.S. jets screamed low over the capital and helicopter gunships swooped in to pound a central Baghdad battleground yesterday, supporting Iraqi and American troops in a daylong fight that officials said killed 50 insurgents in a militant Sunni Arab stronghold.

The battle raged on Haifa Street about 1 miles north of the heavily fortified Green Zone — home to the U.S. Embassy and other facilities. It was the second major confrontation on Haifa Street in the four days since Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced a new drive to rid Baghdad of sectarian fighters.

The U.S. military said about 1,000 Iraqi and U.S. soldiers carried out “targeted raids to capture multiple targets, disrupt insurgent activity and restore Iraqi Security Forces control of North Haifa Street.”

“This area has been subject to insurgent activity, which has repeatedly disrupted Iraqi Security Force operations in central Baghdad,” said a statement quoting Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl, a spokesman for Multi-National Division Baghdad.

He said the U.S. jets did not conduct any air strikes, but “attack helicopters were used to engage targets in support of the ground forces.”

Col. Bleichwehl said no American or Iraqi soldiers were killed. He did not address the number of militants killed, while the Iraqi Defense Ministry reported 50 deaths among insurgents.

Elsewhere yesterday, Iraqi police reported finding 52 bodies dumped in three cities, 41 of them in Baghdad, all apparent victims of sectarian reprisal killings.

North of Baghdad, a cargo plane carrying mostly Turkish workers crashed as it apparently tried to land at a U.S. air base in bad weather, killing 34 persons, Iraqi and Turkish officials said. The Turkish Embassy said one Turk survived, but was severely injured.

An Iraqi security official at Baghdad’s airport said an Antonov cargo plane crashed near Balad, 50 miles north of the capital. The official said it was not clear whether the aircraft had mechanical problems or was shot down.

A Turkish Foreign Ministry official said initial reports indicated that the plane went down because of bad weather and heavy fog.

At a Saturday ceremony marking the 85th anniversary of the founding of the Iraqi army, Mr. al-Maliki vowed to strike at the Shi’ite and Sunni extremists responsible for the sectarian warfare that has bloodied the country in the past year.

Within hours of the speech, the Iraqi military said 30 militancy suspects were killed in the Haifa Street area after police discovered 27 bodies dumped there, most of them with gunshot wounds in the head and signs of torture. U.S. forces joined the battle after the Iraqi army called for backup.

Yesterday, Mr. al-Maliki confirmed in a television interview that he had rejected a request from U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad for a delay of up to two weeks in ousted dictator Saddam Hussein’s execution because “we did not want to keep a door open for trouble.”

“We did not want the families of the victims to go out and demonstrate,” he said.

The hanging led to a global outcry after a video appeared on the Internet showing Saddam being taunted in his final moments.

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