BAGHDAD, Iraq – Insurgents launched a daring daylight assault Monday against the Interior Ministry in Baghdad, killing two police in a surge of attacks by Al Qaeda's (search) arm in Iraq. Two British soldiers died in a roadside bombing in the south.
U.S. Marines said Monday that Al Qaeda in Iraq launched multiple attacks the day before against U.S. and Iraqi targets in Hit, 85 miles west of Baghdad. Eight civilians, an Iraqi soldier and three suicide bombers died in the Hit attacks
Elsewhere, at least eight Iraqi civilians — including five children — were killed in fighting Monday in Tal Afar (search), said Dr. Abdul-Aal Kamal of the northern city's hospital.
There was no report of casualties among the combatants, including the U.S. 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment (search), which is trying to wrest control of Tal Afar, 260 miles north of Baghdad, from insurgents and foreign fighters.
However, Iraqi authorities said the bodies of three community leaders who had refused insurgent demands for help were found Monday in the city. Iraqi officers said gunmen swept through the victims' districts over the weekend as fighting around the city escalated.
In Baghdad, thunderous explosions and volleys of heavy gunfire rattled the downtown area soon after sunrise Monday as about four carloads of insurgents staged a lightning raid on the Interior Ministry, which is responsible for police and paramilitary units nationwide.
The insurgents, who fired automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades, withdrew after about 15 minutes, leaving two policemen dead and five wounded. There was no report of insurgent casualties.
A statement posted Monday on an Islamic Web site claimed responsibility for the attack in the name of Al Qaeda in Iraq, led by Jordanian terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (search).
U.S. Apache and Black Hawk helicopters flew over central Baghdad after the firefight, and U.S. Army patrols in armored vehicles combed the streets looking for the attackers.
The two British soldiers died when their armored Land Rover was destroyed by a bomb near Zubeir, a Sunni Arab enclave about 12 miles west of Basra.
Elsewhere, Iraqi officials said that Al Qaeda-linked foreign fighters had taken control of large areas of a strategic city on the Syrian border after weeks of fighting between an Iraqi tribe that supports the insurgents and one that opposes them.
The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, said much of Qaim, 200 miles west of Baghdad, had been abandoned after weeks of tribal fighting.
U.S. Marines operate around Qaim but have privately complained they don't have enough American or Iraqi forces to secure the area properly.
The attacks in the Hit area began Sunday morning when two homicide car bombs exploded at security barricades on the northwest side of town, a Marine statement said.
Shortly afterward, a vehicle car bomb exploded on the Hit bridge across the Euphrates River, rendering it impassable, the Marines said.
The Marine statement said three insurgents and one Iraqi soldier died in the Sunday attacks. The government in Baghdad said eight civilians also died.
In Doha, Qatar, the U.S. Central Command said U.S. jets launched airstrikes Sunday on insurgent positions near Balad, 50 miles north of Baghdad, dropping two 500-pound bombs against an insurgent staging area.
The statement also said an Air Force Predator aircraft fired two Hellfire missiles against a mortar firing position near Balad.
Also Monday, gunmen seized one of the sons of the governor of insurgent infested Anbar province, Mamoun Sami Rashid al-Alwani (search), officials said on condition of anonymity for fear of insurgent reprisal. The abduction occurred in the provincial capital of Ramadi west of Baghdad.
U.S. and Iraqi officials had hoped the new constitution, which goes to the voters in a referendum Oct. 15, would in time help pacify the insurgency by luring Sunni Arabs from the movement.
However, Sunni negotiators rejected the constitution and vowed to defeat it in the referendum. The bitter, protracted negotiations appeared to have raised tensions among the country's ethnic and religious communities.
About 1,500 people, mostly Sunnis, rallied Monday near the Sunni city of Ramadi to protest the draft charter.
On Monday, Iraq's president said he and the other top Kurdish leader had agreed to changes in the draft constitution to mollify concerns among Arab countries that the wording in the charter loosened Iraqi ties to the Arab world.
The language at issue describes Iraq as an Islamic — but not Arab country — a concession to the non-Arab Kurds who form about 15 percent of the Iraqi population.
In a statement released by his office, Jalal Talabani (search) said he and Massood Barzani (search) agreed "to accept some amendments deemed vital for the Islamic and Arab worlds concerning the Arab League because Iraq is a founding member in the Arab League."
Talabani did not specify what changes in the language had been agreed to by him and Barzani, head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party.
Some Iraqi officials said last week that the changes could keep the description of Iraq as an Islamic state but add wording about Iraq having been a founding member of the Arab League. Sunni Arab negotiators said at the time that such language might satisfy the Arab League but not them.