U.S. troops, insurgents clash in Iraq
Todd Pitman, Associated Press/Baghdad
Clashes erupted between U.S. troops and insurgents on Tuesday in the troubled city of Ramadi west of the capital, leaving at least two people dead, officials said.
In Baghdad, gunmen assassinated the deputy chief of the Interior Ministry's immigration office, Gen. Ghazi Mohammed Issa, in a drive-by shooting in the western suburb of Ghazaliya, a top ministry official said on condition of anonymity.
In an Internet statement, al-Qaeda in Iraq purportedly claimed responsibility for the attack.
The Interior Ministry official said gunmen also attacked a convoy of trucks carrying food for the Trade Ministry in Salman Pak, southeast of the capital. Three civilians were killed in the assault and at least one of the trucks was set on fire.
Unidentified gunmen also shot dead the deputy head of Hay Alfurat Hospital in western Baghdad, officials said.
The clashes in Ramadi, 115 kilometers west of Baghdad, lasted for more than an hour. City shops were closed and streets were deserted as U.S. troops took up sniper positions on rooftops. At least one dead body could be seen in the street, witnesses said.
Dr. Salah al-Ani of Ramadi's main hospital said at least two Iraqis were killed and two others wounded.
U.S. troops launched a clampdown in Ramadi and several other Euphrates cities on Feb. 20, imposing curfews and raiding houses in a bid to root out insurgents operating in the area.
Elsewhere, U.S. troops killed two men overnight they identified as terrorists who launched an attack in Ad Duja, about 50 kilometers northwest of the capital. Six people were detained by U.S. forces - one of the wounded attackers and five others.
Tuesday's violence came a day after insurgents launched a wave of attacks on Monday that killed 33 people and wounded dozens.
The terror group Al-Qaeda in Iraq, led by Abu Musab al- Zarqawi, claimed responsibility for much of Monday's bloodshed - including violence that killed 15 people in and around Baqouba, 55 kilometers northeast of Baghdad.
Amid the violence, negotiations to form Iraq's first democratically elected government have persisted. Iraqi Kurds said they were close to a deal with the Shiite clergy-backed United Iraqi Alliance to secure many of their territorial demands and ensure the country's secular character after its National Assembly convenes March 16.
The dominant Shiite Muslim alliance, however, said although it agreed that Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani would become Iraq's president, it was still talking about other conditions set by the Kurds for their support in the 275-member legislative body.
The Shiite alliance controls 140 seats and need the 75 seats won by the Kurds in the Jan. 30 elections to muster the necessary two-thirds majority to elect a president and later seat their choice for prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari.
An alliance official said interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, whose party won 40 seats, refused an offer for a Cabinet post. Allawi's office could not be reached for comment.
"Iraqis defied the terrorists and they went to the polling stations in order to see their elected representatives meet and debate the future of the country," interim Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh, a Kurd, said of the decision to convene the assembly.
The wave of violence came as Dutch troops ended their mission in the southern city of Samawa and turned command of the area over to the British, along with responsibility for 550 Japanese soldiers. The Dutch government last year decided to pull out its final 350 troops, despite requests from Britain and the United States.
Another ally, Bulgaria, demanded Monday that the United States investigate what appeared to be a friendly fire incident on Friday that killed one of the 460 Bulgarian soldiers in Iraq. Although Bulgaria's defense minister said the death would not lead to a withdrawal, his government must decide this month whether to keep troops in Iraq past July.