Sunday, May 3, 2009

Iraqi officials described the attacker who was killed in the gunbattle as a soldier who served as a Sunni Muslim preacher for his unit near Mosul, which is one of the last urban strongholds for Sunni insurgents.

Such an ambush could increase pressure on the Shi’ite-led government to try to root out possible turncoats and slow efforts to bring Sunni militiamen into the police and military as rewards for helping battle al Qaeda in Iraq and other insurgent factions.

But any possible slowdown of the Sunni outreach will meet resistance from Washington, which sees the sectarian reconciliation as essential for Iraq’s stability and to keep security gains from rolling back.

A U.S. military statement said the attacker was killed after firing on the American soldiers near the entrance to a combat outpost 12 miles south of Mosul.

A separate gunman fired at other American soldiers at the outpost, then fled, according to Maj. Derrick Cheng, a spokesman for American forces in northern Iraq.

In the past, attackers have used military and police uniforms to bypass checkpoints and gain access to heavily guarded bases. But several Iraqi military officials said the gunman was a low-ranking Iraqi soldier.

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the news media.

It was the latest case of a member of Iraq’s security forces targeting American troops. On Feb. 24, two Iraqi police officers in Mosul opened fire on a visiting U.S. military team, killing one American soldier and an interpreter. The gunmen remain fugitives.

Saturday’s attack follows the deadliest month for U.S. troops in Iraq since September with 18 American soldiers dying in Iraq in April.

Elsewhere, U.S.-backed Iraqi troops arrested the leader of a Sunni paramilitary group north of Baghdad in the town of Duluiyah.

Mullah Nadhim al-Jubouri and his two brothers, Yassir and Thakir, were arrested on warrants accusing them of terrorism, the U.S. military said, without elaborating.

The move was likely to spark anger among members of the so-called Awakening Councils, which have turned against al Qaeda in Iraq in what is considered a key factor in the drop in violence.

In the northern city of Kirkuk, security patrols were boosted after an attempted suicide bombing Friday was foiled by guards at the last moment at a Shi’ite mosque.

Meanwhile, an Iraqi cleric who led bloody rebellions against U.S. troops but stayed out of public view in the past two years made an unusually visible appearance Saturday in Turkey, which is raising its own profile as a mediator in the region.

Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr met about 70 fellow Iraqi Shi’ites in Istanbul on Saturday in what representatives described as a discussion of ways to contribute to Iraq’s future. General elections are expected toward the end of this year, and Iraq’s 275-member parliament has about 30 al-Sadr loyalists.

Although al-Sadr shunned the news media at Saturday’s event at a hotel, his participation as well as a photograph of him seated with Turkey Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a meeting a day earlier in Ankara were a departure from his customary reclusiveness.

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