- The Washington Times - Friday, June 1, 2007

BAGHDAD — An al Qaeda-linked suicide bomber yesterday struck a safe house occupied by an insurgent group that has turned against the terror network. The attack northeast of Baghdad killed two other militants, police said, the latest sign that an internal Sunni power struggle is spreading.

The U.S. military also announced the deaths of four more servicemen. At least 125 U.S. troops were killed in Iraq in May, the third-deadliest month for U.S. forces since the war began more than four years ago.

May was also the third-deadliest for Iraqis since the Associated Press began tracking civilian casualties in April 2005. At least 2,155 Iraqis were killed last month, according to the AP count. The government figure put the number at 2,123, according to officials at the Interior Ministry, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.

The explosion in Baqouba took place as Iraqi and U.S. troops fanned out in the Sunni stronghold of Amariyah in the capital, enforcing an indefinite curfew after heavily armed residents clashed with al Qaeda in Iraq fighters, apparently fed up with the group’s brutal tactics.

“Al Qaeda fighters and leaders have completely destroyed Amariyah,” said Abu Ahmed, a 40-year-old Sunni father of four who said he joined in the clashes. “No one can venture out, and all the businesses are closed. They kill everyone who criticizes them and is against their acts even if they are Sunnis.”

Other residents, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they feared retribution, said the clashes began after al Qaeda militants abducted and tortured Sunnis from the area. That prompted a large number of residents, including many members of the rival Islamic Army armed with guns and rocket-propelled grenades, to rise up against the terror network. U.S. forces joined them in the fighting Wednesday and Thursday.

Mr. Ahmed denied being a member of any insurgent group but said he sympathizes with “honest Iraqi resistance,” referring to those opposed both to U.S.-led efforts in Iraq and to the brutal tactics of al Qaeda.

Official casualty figures from the fighting in Amariyah were not available. But a local council member, who declined to be identified because of security concerns, said at least 31 persons, including six al Qaeda militants, were killed and 45 other fighters were detained in the clashes.

The explosion in Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, took place as residents said al Qaeda is trying to regain control of the central Tahrir neighborhood from the 1920 Revolution Brigades, a group composed of officials and soldiers from the ousted Saddam Hussein regime who have allied themselves with local security forces against the terror network.

Nationwide, at least 32 Iraqis were killed or found dead yesterday.

In Turkey’s capital of Ankara yesterday, the Turkish army warned Kurds in control of neighboring northern Iraq that Ankara would respond “at the highest level” if its soldiers in the autonomous region are treated badly or harmed.

The warning came in a general staff statement, carried by the Anatolia news agency, which said that Kurdish security forces in northern Iraq had earlier harassed Turkish soldiers at a checkpoint in the city of Sulaimaniyah.

“Everybody should know and understand that our elements on duty in this area are sons of the Turkish nation and the heroic Turkish army,” the statement said.

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