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Kurds Nab 15 Militants in Iraq

Kurdish security forces have captured 15 militants in northern Iraq, including one man believed to be a senior leader of a local Al Qaeda-linked group, an official in a pro-American Kurdish party said Tuesday.

Among those arrested late Monday evening was a man identified as Hemen Banishiri, reportedly the second-in-command for the radical Kurdish group, Ansar al-Islam (search), said Saadi Ahmed, a senior member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan's (search) political wing.

The arrests took place in the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk and several other towns, Ahmed said.

Although Ahmed said U.S. forces participated in the arrests, confirmation from the American military was not immediately available.

The PUK and another main Kurdish party, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (search) each has a separate government, based in Sulaimaniyah and Irbil, but are jointly represented in the parliament. Each group has its own security apparatus, which has the power to make arrests and detain suspects.

The PUK has been in a state of conflict with Ansar al-Islam for several years. Earlier this month, Kurdish authorities arrested six men believed linked to the group as suspected of carrying out a number attacks and assassination attempts on senior police officials and political leaders.

In Mosul, insurgents clashed with an Iraq National Guard patrol on Tuesday, killing one soldier and injuring nine, authorities said.

Two guerrillas hiding in an alley opened up on the passing patrol in Mosul, 250 miles north of Baghdad. The guard forces counterattacked, killing one insurgent and injuring another, said one Iraqi officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

One Iraqi soldier was killed and nine injured during the clash, said Leith Ibrahim, an official at al-Jumhouri hospital.

Meanwhile, Philippine official Rafael Seguis said his country would withdraw its troops from Iraq "as soon as possible" in response to kidnappers' demands. But it was unclear if any pullout would be ahead of its scheduled Aug. 20 departure.

Insurgents holding Filipino truck driver Angelo dela Cruz (search) hostage said they had moved him to the place where he would be killed if the Philippines did not agree to remove its 51-member peacekeeping force by July 20.

In a new video, Dela Cruz pleaded with Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (search) to withdraw the country's 51 troops early so he wouldn't be killed, Al-Jazeera said. He also asked that his body be delivered to his country.

The militant group, the Iraqi Islamic Army-Khaled bin Al-Waleed Corps, said it had done everything possible to prove it wanted to spare the life of the 46-year-old father of eight, adding that it had given him food and water.

On Monday, Iraqi police launched a massive sweep of a Baghdad neighborhood, killing one person and rounding up hundreds of suspected criminals.

Just after dark, dozens of Iraqi police in pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles fanned out into the Bab Alsheikh neighborhood and snatched suspects off the streets. Some fought back, setting off dozens of small gunbattles.

The operation was intended to crack down on "criminals, kidnappers and looters," said Hussein Ali Kamal, the deputy interior minister. One suspect died, two were injured while resisting arrest and hundreds were detained, he said.

It came as interim President Ghazi al-Yawer (search) issued a warning to guerrillas who have killed hundreds of Iraqis, promising to use a "very sharp sword" against guerrillas who have killed hundreds of Iraqis.

The new Iraqi government has been discussing offering a limited amnesty to militants to put down the insurgency. But it has also been talking increasingly tough about those who keep carrying out attacks.

"Terrorism isn't just killing and blowing up bombs; whoever threatens the ordinary life of the people is a terrorist," President Ghazi al-Yawer told reporters. "We have a very sharp sword ready for anyone who threatens the security of this country."

Al-Yawer, whose post as president is largely ceremonial, said during a news conference that insurgents could no longer wage attacks under the guise of resistance to an occupying power, since the United States transferred sovereignty two weeks ago.

"The occupation is over now," he said. "We want to tell anyone who wants to threaten the security of this country: 'Enough.' I say, 'Enough. Stop."'