BAGHDAD, Iraq, (AP) – U.S. forces killed nine suspected al-Qaeda in Iraq insurgents during a raid in a rural area south of Baghdad on Thursday, and more than 1,000 Iraqi soldiers launched a military operation in northern Iraq with American air and artillery support.
Deadly attacks continued in the capital, with suspected insurgents and militias using guns, bombs and mortar shells to kill 15 Iraqis. And the U.S. Army announced that four soldiers had died in combat this week.
In Youssifiyah, a rural area 12 miles south of Baghdad, U.S. soldiers were conducting a raid and telling civilians to exit buildings when they saw several armed men in a nearby wooded area, the military said. The soldiers called in air support that killed nine suspected al-Qaeda in Iraq insurgents, several of whom were wearing explosive vests, the military said.
The soldiers detained nine other suspected insurgents during the raid, the military said.
The military also said that more than 1,000 Iraqi soldiers had begun conducting a military operation aimed at clearing several villages of suspected insurgents and their weapons caches near the northern city of Kirkuk.
The cordon-and-search operation, which began Wednesday, relied on the support of U.S. air and artillery from a nearby military base and was taking place in the Zytoon and Rashad valleys, about 25 miles south of Kirkuk.
Iraqi soldiers planned to remain in the area after the operation to protect Iraqi civilians and to deny insurgents sanctuary in the area, the military said.
A central U.S. goal is training Iraqi forces to take control of areas so that American forces can withdraw to bases or send more soldiers to hard-hit areas such as Baghdad.
In Thursday’s deadliest attack in the capital, gunmen opened fire on a bakery, killing nine people, police said.
Such attacks are usually carried out by Sunni-Arab militants, as most of the bakeries in the city are run by Iraqis from the country’s Shiite majority.
Those killed in the shooting at 7:30 a.m. in Baghdad’s eastern neighborhood of Zayouna included employees of the al-Rafidain Bakery and its customers, said police Capt. Mohammed Abdel-Ghani.
“The gunmen stormed into the bakery and killed workers while they were baking. They had done nothing bad,” said one man who joined other local residents outside the small store after the attack. He spoke on condition of anonymity out of concern for his own safety.
Four civilians and two Iraqi policemen also died in six other attacks in Baghdad on Thursday morning. At least 18 people were wounded.
Police also said the bullet-riddled, blindfolded bodies of four Iraqis were found in two locations of eastern Baghdad at 11 p.m. Wednesday and 6:30 a.m. Thursday. Each victim had been tied up and tortured.
Scores of Iraqis are kidnapped and killed in this fashion each week in cities such as Baghdad, by militias, insurgents or common criminals seeking ransoms.
The U.S. military said four soldiers had been killed and two wounded during combat operations in Iraq earlier in the week.
Three Task Force Lightning soldiers assigned to 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, were killed on Wednesday in Diyala province in northeastern Iraq, one by small-arms fire and two by a roadside bomb, the military said. The bomb also wounded two soldiers.
On Tuesday, a service member from the Army’s Multinational Corps-Iraq was killed by small-arms fire during an operation in Baghdad, the military said.
The killings raised the number of American war dead to 2,862.
So far this month, 44 American service members have been killed or died in Iraq.