BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – The U.S. military said Thursday it killed a mid-ranking al-Qaeda operative in an air strike, as the Interior Ministry counted the cost of Iraq’s mounting violence on the police force, saying at least 119 Iraqi officers were killed last month.
In a brief statement, the military said Rafa al-Ithawi, also known as Abu Taha, was killed Wednesday in Ramadi, 115 kilometers (70 miles) west of Baghdad, by precision laser guided weapons that destroyed his vehicle.
It said al-Ithawi had been named an emir under al-Qaeda in Iraq, making him a local commander in Anbar province, the heartland of the stubborn Sunni insurgency against U.S. troops and their Iraqi allies. It said al-Ithawi frequently sheltered foreign militants who came to Iraq to attack Shiite civilians and U.S. and Iraqi forces.
“This and other recent operations in the region highlight the deliberate, methodical dismantlement of the al-Qaeda in Iraq network and those who contribute to its illegal actions,” the military said.
Al-Qaeda in Iraq has sworn affiliation to Saudi terrorist leader Osama bin Laden and is blamed for engineering many of the most brutal incidents of sectarian violence in Iraq. The U.S. military killed the group’s founder, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, in a similar airstrike in May.
The Interior Ministry figures for October deaths came after the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, said more than 300 Iraqi police and soldiers died during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which included the first three weeks of October.
The latest police death toll was released by an Interior Ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to talk to media.
The official also said 185 police were reported injured, pointing to a low survival rate among members of the force, who lack the armored vehicles, body armor, and fortified bases of U.S. troops operating in the country. In contrast, a much higher percentage of U.S. soldiers have survived their injuries, with the number of wounded listed at 33,838 against 2,817 killed since the March 2003 invasion.
Interior Ministry spokesman Abdel-Karim Khalaf said Thursday that 90 police officers had been killed and 160 wounded in violence amid heavy fighting between Oct. 26 and Nov. 1, an average of 15 per day. He didn’t comment on any other figures at a brief news conference.
Altogether, more than 1,000 Iraqis died from violence in October, the highest level since The Associated Press began tracking civilian deaths in April 2005. That count most likely underestimates the true figure because many deaths go unreported. Since this summer, the United Nations has put the monthly death toll at more than 3,000.
The U.S. military said a Baghdad-based soldier was killed on Wednesday after the vehicle he was riding in was struck by a roadside bomb west of the capital, the first U.S. casualty in November.
At least 2,818 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. Last month was the fourth deadliest month since the invasion, with 105 American service members killed.
Scattered bombings and shootings in Baghdad and other parts of Iraq on Thursday killed at least ten people and injured 42, police said. The bodies of two men who had been bound and blindfolded before being shot execution style were found dumped in an eastern suburb of the capital.
In an apparent revenge killing, gunmen ambushed and killed Jassim al- Asadi, the Shiite dean of Baghdad University’s school of administration and economics, along with his wife and son.
The shooting followed the murder on Monday of prominent Sunni geologist Essam al-Rawi, and closely followed the pattern of tit-for-tat sectarian killings that have raged through much of Iraq following attacks on Shiite holy sites in February.
Academics have also increasingly been singled out for attacks due to their relatively high public stature and vulnerability, with at least 154 professors murdered between April 9, 2003 and Oct. 3, 2006. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of others have fled to neighboring countries.
A roadside bomb killed two people and injured 25 others near a market in Baghdad’s al-Jadeeda district, police Lt. Ali Abbas said, while two policemen and a civilian were killed in Diyala province.
Four suspected insurgents were killed and ten arrested in an Iraqi army raid near Tal Afar, 420 kilometers (260 miles) northwest of Baghdad, Brig. Muhssin al-Dosaki said. The bodies of two men who had been bound and blindfolded before being shot execution style were found dumped in an eastern suburb of the capital.
Sports officials said they had no word on the whereabouts of a top Iraqi basketball official and a blind athletic coach, both Sunnis, abducted during a practice session at a Baghdad youth club on Wednesday.
The kidnappings came a day after U.S. and Iraqi forces lifted a blockade on Baghdad’s Shiite militia stronghold of Sadr City following an order from Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Al-Maliki acted under pressure from anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose political faction is a key part of the governing coalition. The sports club lies just blocks from the district, controlled al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army which has been linked to scores of abductions and torture killings of Sunnis.
Athletes and sports officials have been frequently targets of murders, threats, and kidnappings, believed to be motivated by both money and sectarian feuds. Police said they still had no leads in the disappearance of 40 Shiites seized by Sunni gunmen Tuesday on a dangerous stretch of road north of Baghdad. Frustration within the Iraqi government over the failure to stem the daily kidnappings, killings and political violence boiled over Wednesday in a fight between Sunni politicians in parliament. Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani accused other Sunni lawmakers of corruption and of stalling ratification of a religious edict intended to end sectarian
clashes. Al-Mashhadani labeled the lawmakers “villains” and “dogs”, a deep insult in Iraq and other Arab societies.