BAGHDAD, (AP) – American troops grabbed two al-Qaeda in Iraq bombing suspects and a Shiite militia leader Tuesday in separate raids north and south of Baghdad, the U.S. military said.
The command also said U.S. soldiers killed four other suspects a day earlier after coming under fire from machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades in Shiite sections of the capital. The troops seized dozens of rifles and several rounds of ammunition, the statement said.
One of the two al-Qaeda suspects, who was captured with four aides in Mosul, is believed to have overseen security for the group’s branch in that northern city, the military said. Mosul is one of the terror network’s last urban strongholds and the target of a joint U.S.-Iraqi operation.
The man, who was not identified by name, is also suspected of masterminding bombings against Iraqi police in the area, the U.S. military said.
The other al-Qaeda in Iraq su0pect was apprehended along with an assistant in Tikrit, a Sunni Arab city south of Mosul. He allegedly helped organize suicide bombings and the movement of foreign fighters into the country, a U.S. statement said.
The suspected Shiite militia leader and five associates surrendered without incident at his home in Kut, southeast of the Iraqi capital, the U.S. said. He was accused of involvement in the murder of Iraqis and American soldiers, it said.
Violence has dropped dramatically in Iraq since a May 11 cease-fire put an end to seven weeks of fighting by U.S. and Iraqi troops against Shiite militias in Baghdad’s Sadr City district.
Since then, government forces have intensified security operations to restore control of Sadr City and Basra, the big southern city where Shiite gunmen had ruled the streets for more than three years.
Basra residents say the operation has brought considerable improvement to security in a city where Shiite extremists intimidated women who tied to wear Western clothes and forced video and music shops to close.
Despite the improvements, an Iraqi cameraman working for state television was wounded Tuesday night when a bomb exploded at a newly-reopened music shop, police said. Camera operator Odai Sabri was injured while filming shops which were back in business after the government crackdown, according to police.
Witnesses in Mosul, meanwhile, said Kurdish troops reinforced their positions at Iraqi government buildings in the city’s northern al-Arabi district, deploying fighters to rooftops despite an order from Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to vacate the area.
“We’ve seen an intensified presence of peshmerga (Kurdish militia), and their numbers have increased along with armored vehicles,” one resident said on condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisals. He said government troops also had increased their patrols.
The recent fighting in Mosul has been mainly to quash al-Qaeda in Iraq militants, but the city also suffers from tension between Kurdish and Sunni Arab factions.
The discord stems largely from lopsided political representation in local government, which is dominated by Kurdish parties and their allies even though Arabs hold a slight majority in Mosul’s province, Ninevah. Sunni Arabs boycotted the last provincial elections in 2005.
Mosul’s deputy governor, a Kurd, denied Tuesday that Kurdish fighters were in a standoff with government forces.
“We are national political parties participating in the government and not fighting its forces,” deputy governor Khisro Koran said. “We support the government and its security measures so that we are not excluded.”