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U.S.: Iraq Airstrikes Kill 40 Insurgents

A former commando in the feared Wolf Brigade (search) blew himself up after sneaking into the morning roll call at the unit's heavily fortified headquarters Saturday, one of a series of weekend insurgent attacks that killed at least 35 people including youngsters waiting to buy sandwiches and ice cream. Near the Syrian border, Marine air strikes wiped out a band of 40 heavily armed militants.

The American military said Marines ordered the four-hour bombardment near the Anbar province frontier city of Qaim (search)after insurgents took control of a road "and were threatening Iraqi civilians,"

The Marines had lost seven men to militant attacks in the province, an insurgent stronghold, since Thursday. Saturday's air strikes, 200 miles west of Baghdad, hit insurgents suspected in the recent killing of 21 people, including three who were beheaded and believed to be from a group of missing Iraqi soldiers.

The Marines said their aircraft fired seven precision-guided missiles at insurgents who were armed with AK-47 assault rifles, medium-duty machine guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. No U.S. forces nor civilians were hurt in the confrontation, the military said.

In Baghdad, Interior Minister Bayan Jabr (search), a Shiite in charge of fighting the predominantly Sunni Arab insurgency, vowed he would never talk to anyone "who stole the smile off our children's faces," an apparent reference the deaths of the children in the killing spree that began Friday night.

Jabr said the attack against the feared Wolf Brigade, a predominantly Shiite unit, was carried out by one of its former members, whom he did not name.

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's al-Qaida in Iraq claimed responsibility for the attack. In an Internet statement posted on a web site used by militant groups, the terrorist organization identified the suicide bomber as a Sunni seeking vengeance. The Wolf Brigade has been accused of heavy-handed targeting of Iraq's Sunni minority. The statement's authenticity couldn't be verified.

Gunmen also attacked an Interior Ministry commando convoy in western Baghdad, killing three police officers.

The weekend attacks further soured efforts by the Shiite-dominated government and Sunni leaders who are searching for a political means to end the insurgency, which sharply escalated after the April 28 announcement of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari's government.

Despite Iraqi claims of success in fighting militants, at least 934 people have been killed in insurgent attacks since the government was put in place. At least one-third of the victims were killed in car bombings, many the work of suicide attackers.

Shiite and Kurdish politicians, including Iraq's president, have sought to defuse sectarian tensions by including more members of the Sunni minority in a committee to draft the country's new constitution — which requires countrywide approval. The charter must be drafted by mid-August and submitted to a referendum two months later.

"The Sunni Arabs are an essential structure of the country and they should not be marginalized. They should have a real representation in Iraq and must participate in drafting the constitution," said Mouwafak al-Rubaie, a Shiite legislator and former national security adviser.

Speaking to reporters after talks with Shiite spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in southern Najaf, al-Rubaie also said he thought Saddam Hussein could face trial before the referendum. The government last week made similar claims, but subsequently stepped back from setting a date.

"As a government we are looking forward to seeing Saddam Hussein inside the court's cage before the referendum, but there are some security and political obstacles concerning this issue," he said.

Efforts to contact insurgent groups requires that government representatives open channels of communication through Sunni leaders who have contacts with militants. So far such contacts have been limited to groups that carry out "national resistance," a phrase that is used to describe militants who only carry out attacks against U.S.-led coalition troops.

But after the weekend attacks Jabr, a reputed hard-liner, did not appear willing to accept any contacts with militants.

"We shall have channels of communication with anyone who has not been involved in killing or terrorism. We are not prepared to open channels with those who stole the smile off our children's faces and killed our sons," Jabr told a news conference.

He said a two-week old counterinsurgency campaign in Baghdad known Operation Lightning was a success and expressed confidence that the government would have full control of the country within six months.

"Operation Lightning has forced the terrorists to flee outside Baghdad," Jabr said. "Within the coming six months, God willing, we will spread security all over Iraq."

So far 1,318 suspects have been arrested in the campaign, and Jabr claimed it had played a part in dramatically reducing car bomb attacks in the capital.

Before Operation Lightning, there were an average of 12 car bombings in Baghdad each day. That number has dropped to less than two a day, he said. There have 26 bombings involving cars since the operation began on May 29, according to an Associated Press count.

The weekend's bloodshed in Baghdad began late Friday night when a car bomb exploded outside a shop selling falafel sandwiches and ice cream, a popular hangout for youngsters in the predominantly Shiite neighborhood of Shula. The blast ripped across a sidewalk and killed 10 people sitting or waiting for the fried chickpea sandwiches, a staple in the Middle East.

In Diyara, a town 30 miles south of Baghdad, insurgents killed at least 11 Iraqi construction workers and wounded three others when the sprayed a minibus with gunfire. Police said the victims worked on both civilian and U.S. military construction projects.

A suicide bomber drove his car into a concrete blast wall in front of the Slovakian Embassy in southeast Baghdad, injuring four people.

In addition to the 35 people killed in insurgent attacks Friday night and Saturday, two Iraqi security guards were killed by U.S. forces when the men did not respond to orders to stop as they approached an American convoy in Baghdad.