Sporadic Attacks Kill Eight in Iraq

Sporadic attacks around Iraq killed eight people Friday in one of the least violent days since the Shiite -led government took office about one month ago. The lull came as an influential Sunni association called for an end to a massive counterinsurgency campaign being waged around Baghdad (search).

In northern Mosul, a suicide car bomber blew himself up near a police station in the southern part of the city, killing three police officers and wounding another five, Capt. Ahmed Khalil of the police operations room said. Two officers were seriously injured, hospital officials said.

A mortar attack in Tal Afar, a city about 50 miles west of Mosul, killed two Iraqi men and injured three, police chief Col. Ishmael Mohammed said.

Police also found seven bodies in different parts of the city — including five "terrorists," a police officer and a Kurdistan Democratic Party (search) member discovered in separate places.

The new bloodshed raised the death toll since the new Shiite-led government was announced April 28 to least 830 people, not counting insurgents.

In the past 18 months, 12,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed, including more than 10,000 Shiites, Interior Minister Bayan Jabr said, citing figures from a research center. But he said he analyzed the figures on the basis of areas where victims lived, not data stating the branch of Islam they belonged to.

Separately, Australia's top Muslim cleric, who is trying to secure the release of 63-year-old Australian hostage Douglas Wood, said he hoped to receive news of the captive's imminent release. He did not elaborate.

Jabr has claimed the government offensive seeking to root out kidnappers and other militants in Baghdad had scored big gains, saying this week's sweep by Iraqi soldiers and police, known as "Operation Lightning," captured 700 suspected insurgents and killed 28 militants.

The campaign is the biggest Iraqi offensive since Saddam Hussein (search)'s fall two years ago. Iraqi officials have said the operation, which began Sunday, involves 40,000 soldiers and police, though not all man positions at any one time. Before the offensive, authorities controlled only eight of Baghdad's 23 entrances.

Iraqi and U.S. forces swept areas south of Baghdad districts of Mahmoudiya, Latifiyah, and Youssifiyah on Friday in another operation, searching for insurgent staging areas used in attacks inside the capital.

Army Col. Mark Milley (search), who commands the 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, said intelligence indicated insurgents were using Baghdad's southern districts to stage attacks in the capital.

"When people attack cities like (Baghdad), they establish support zones, bases of operation on the outskirts of cities," said Milley. "We have intelligence on our side ... indicating there are enemy forces and terrorist cells operating in this area."

Milley would not say how many U.S. troops were involved in the operation, but said American forces were acting in support of "several brigades" of Iraqi soldiers.

"The enemy is moving around and trying to avoid contact," said Milley, who added no insurgents had been killed since his own operation was launched Wednesday, but that a handful of gunbattles had broken out. Two homemade bombs exploded separately Friday, wounding several U.S. soldiers mildly.

Milley said 84 suspects were detained Friday, while a "half a dozen suspected al-Qaida cell members" and several other "foreign fighters" from Sudan, Syria, Egypt and Jordan had been captured since the operation began.

"For two years I have been suffering from these terrorists, now it is my time," said Brig. Gen. Mohammed Essa Baher, an army commander from Mahmoudiya whose two sons had been killed by insurgents.

Sunni clerics in Baghdad took advantage of main weekly Friday prayer services to call for an end to Operation Lightning, which many Sunnis say target members of their own religious minority. Sunni Arabs are thought to make up the overwhelming majority of the insurgency.

"I appeal to every official here in Iraq to stop humiliating people and (end) the raiding campaign," Sheik Mahmoud al-Sumaidie said in the Um al-Qura Mosque, which also serves as the headquarters of the influential Association of Muslim Scholars.

Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari (search), a Shiite, has been trying to include the Sunni minority in the political process, seen as the only way to defuse the insurgency.

But the incessant violence — launched by Islamic extremists to Saddam loyalists — highlights what still needs to be done to stop the killings.

Gunmen killed Brig. Sabah Qara Alton, a Turkman official at Kirkuk City Council, after he left a mosque in the ethnically mixed northern city following Friday prayers, police Capt. Sarhad Talabani said.

Earlier, gunmen killed Razzouq Mohammed Ibrahim, an Iraqi contractor in charge of renovating a mosque in western Samarra, and stole his car, police Lt. Qassim Mohammed said.

Insurgents also fired mortars at the Baghdad Medical City complex shortly after midday, damaging one of the roof of a building. They then shot and killed an Iraqi man standing outside the complex, U.S. military spokesman Sgt. David Abrams said.

Two Iraqi civilians, including a child, were also killed when their car swerved into a U.S. Bradley fighting vehicle near Khalis, 50 miles north of Baghdad, the U.S. military said.

A suicide car bomber wounded nine Iraqi soldiers and two women after attacking an Iraqi army checkpoint near the U.S. 42nd Infantry Division base in Tikrit, 80 miles north of Baghdad, police Capt. Hakim al-Azawi said. Police also pulled the body of a man, whose hands were bound and had been shot in the head, from the Tigris River.

Car bombs also targeted U.S. military convoys in the capital, one of which wounded six Iraqi civilians in western Baghdad, police Capt. Mohammed Abbas said. Another blast damaged an American tank, but caused no U.S. casualties.

Iraqi army troops Friday stormed a suspected house in the southern port city of Basra, detaining four men — two Iraqis and two Egyptians, according to army Brig. Abdul-Kazim Hussein. He said large quantities of weapons and two booby-trapped cars were found.

Sheik Taj El Din al-Hilaly arrived in Baghdad on Wednesday to continue his mission to secure the release Wood, a California-based Australian engineer. The Egyptian-born mufti has said his Iraqi contacts urged him to return to prepare for Wood's possible release.

Wood was abducted in late April, shortly before a militant group, calling itself the Shura Council of the Mujahedeen of Iraq, released a video May 1 showing him pleading for Australia to withdraw its 1,400 troops from Iraq. The Australian government has refused to bend to terrorists' demands.