BAGHDAD, Iraq – U.S. Marines killed 25 insurgents and captured 25 others during several hours of fierce fighting in Ramadi (search), a hotbed of the insurgency against U.S. and Iraqi forces, the American military said Thursday.
The fighting Wednesday in Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad (search), wounded 14 U.S. servicemen, but none of the injuries were life-threatening. Ten of the wounded subsequently returned to duty, the Marines said.
In Baghdad, insurgents fought U.S. soldiers on Haifa Street, the scene of a shootout earlier this month, an unidentified hospital official told Associated Press Television News. Two Iraqis were reported wounded.
Interior Ministry official Sabah Khadum said Iraqi police and intelligence forces arrested 200 people, including several "non-Iraqi Arabs," during the Haifa Street operation and discovered a huge cache of weapons. U.S. and Iraqi officials have long complained that fighters from neighboring countries are battling coalition forces.
Meanwhile, Indian officials in Baghdad worked with Egypt and Kenya to free three Indians, three Kenyans and an Egyptian, whose kidnapping was announced Wednesday, an Indian official said from New Delhi on condition of anonymity.
The Kenyan government has called for all of its citizens to leave Iraq immediately.
One of the Indian hostages appeared on video broadcast on Indian television stations. He identified his employer as Kuwait and Gulf Link, or KGL. The video also showed the Egyptian hostage speaking and one of the Kenyans speaking in English.
"KGL sent us by force to Iraq. Now they (the captors) have caught us. They say we are siding with America. Along with us, our trucks have also been seized," the hostage, identified as Tilak Raj by Aaj Tak news television, said. "We are being treated well. They are giving us food and drink. We are three Indians, three Kenyans and one Egyptian."
Pictures released on Wednesday showed only six hostages.
The group holding the seven said it would behead a captive every 72 hours beginning Saturday night if their countries did not announce intentions to withdraw troops and citizens from Iraq, and it warned that every Kuwaiti company dealing with Americans "will be dealt with as an American."
The threat came two days after the Philippines withdrew its 51 peacekeepers from Iraq, acquiescing to the demands of militants holding a Filipino truck driver. Angelo dela Cruz returned to the Philippines on Thursday, two days after his release.
Iraqi and U.S. officials warned of a potential surge in threats and abductions when the Philippines withdrew its troops. Egypt, Kenya and India are not part of the 160,000-member U.S.-led coalition. However, interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi appealed last week to India and Egypt for troops.
The daylong clashes in Ramadi began after insurgents detonated a roadside bomb near a Marine convoy Wednesday afternoon in an ambush attempt. As many as 10 Iraqi fighters then attacked Marines with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades.
That skirmish led to ensuing engagements pitting members of the 1st Brigade Combat team against an estimated 75-100 insurgents, the Marines' statement said.
American ground forces backed by U.S. warplanes clashed with insurgents for hours, during which time the Marines safely detonated two homemade bombs, including one placed in a car.
Twenty-five insurgents died in the fighting and another 17 were wounded, the statement said.
Ramadi is located in Anbar Province, a Sunni-dominated area west of the Iraqi capital which has been a hotbed of anti-coalition insurgency.
Marines spokesman Lt. Col. T.V. Johnson said the situation in Ramadi was "relatively quiet" Thursday and "Marines continue to operate from bases within the city, as they have since arriving early this year."
Ramadi shopkeepers were seen shuttering their stores Thursday, apparently in fear of more clashes.
"We were told by the opposition (insurgents) to close our shops and leave the area because there would be fighting in the market," said Mohammed Medhat, owner of a grocery store in Ramadi's central market area. "I'm a father. I need to earn money to feed my children. We can't keep living with this fighting."
There were no immediate reports of U.S. deaths Thursday. On Wednesday, the death toll of American troops in Iraq since the war started in 2003 reached 900 after a roadside bomb north of Baghdad killed one U.S. 1st Infantry Division soldier.
India on Thursday called for the swift release of three Indian truck drivers captured with three Kenyans and one Egyptian, saying the Indians had nothing to do with the war. A militant group calling itself "The Holders of the Black Banners" took responsibility for their capture.
"We are in touch with authorities in Baghdad and Kuwait and are making all efforts to ensure an early and safe release of the hostages," Indian External Affairs Minister K. Natwar Singh said in Islamabad, Pakistan. "The hostages are noncombatants, and I appeal to all those who have influence to assist in ensuring the safe return home of these innocent people."
Egyptian presidential spokesman Magad Abdel Fattah said his country's diplomats were trying to find out more information about the kidnappings and trying to win their release.
"We are dealing with all the political leaders, we are dealing with all the religious leaders, we are dealing with everyone we know," he told the AP on Thursday.
Rana Abu-Zaineh, manpower planning manager of the KGL Transport Co., confirmed from Kuwait that seven company employees were kidnapped in Iraq.
"The most important thing for KGL is that the seven people arrive here safely and talk to their relatives, whatever that takes," she told the AP in Kuwait.