- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 31, 2007

BAGHDAD — A battle raged yesterday in western Baghdad after residents rose up against al Qaeda and called for U.S. military help to end random gunfire that forced people to huddle indoors and threats that kept students from final exams, a member of the district council said.

Elsewhere, a suicide bomber hit a police recruiting center in Fallujah, killing as many as 25 people, police said — although the U.S. military said only one policeman was killed and eight were wounded.

Three policemen and three civilians were killed and 15 civilians were wounded when a suicide truck bomber struck a communications center on the western outskirts of Ramadi, said Anbar provincial security adviser Col. Tariq Youssef Mohammed.

The U.S. military also reported the deaths of three more soldiers, two killed Wednesday in a roadside bombing in Baghdad and one who died of wounds from a roadside bomb attack northwest of the capital Tuesday. At least 122 American forces died during May, the third-deadliest month of the Iraq conflict.

A top U.S. commander said the military is working more aggressively to forge cease-fires with Iraqi militants and quell the violence around Baghdad, judging that 80 percent of enemy combatants are “reconcilable.”

Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq, told Pentagon reporters by video conference that he is pressing his military officers to reach out to the tribes, some small insurgent groups and religious and political leaders to push them to stop the violence.

U.S. forces backed by helicopter gunships clashed with suspected al Qaeda gunmen in western Baghdad’s primarily Sunni Muslim Amariyah neighborhood in an engagement that lasted several hours, said the district council member, who asked not to be identified for fear of al Qaeda retribution.

But the council member said the al Qaeda leader in the Amariyah district, known as Haji Hameed, was killed and 45 other fighters were detained.

Members of al Qaeda, who consider the district part of their so-called Islamic State of Iraq, were preventing students from attending final exams and forcing residents to stay in their homes, the councilman said.

U.S. forces also continued a search for five Britons who were kidnapped Tuesday in Baghdad, as well as for two soldiers who have been missing since a May 12 ambush south of the capital.

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