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U.S., Iraqi Forces Capture 50 Insurgents in Gunbattle

U.S. and Iraqi forces responded to an insurgent attack on a police station Wednesday, fighting a two-hour gunbattle that ended with the capture and detention of 50 of the gunmen.

Four police died in the seige, the second attack on police compounds in two days in Iraq. Another 5 police were wounded.

According to police, about 60 insurgents were involved in the attack on the police station in Madain, south of Baghdad, that invloved rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons.

The insurgents were caught in the crossfire once U.S. troops and members of a special Iraqi police unit arrived on the scene, police said. None of the attackers were killed, and a Syrian was among the 50 captured.

On Tuesday, about 100 masked gunmen stormed a jail in Muqdadiyah near the Iranian border and freed more than 30 prisoners, most of them fellow insurgents.

Madain, 14 miles southeast of Baghdad, is at the northern tip of Iraq's Sunni-dominated "Triangle of Death," a region rife with sectarian violence -- retaliatory kidnappings and killings in the underground conflict between Sunnis and Shiites.

In a highly publicized episode last April, there were reports Sunni militants had seized 100 Shiites and threatened to kill them unless all Shiites left the Madain area. Iraqi security forces swept into the region and found no hostages.

Insurgents fired a mortar round Wednesday at a government installation in the northern town of Beiji during a visit by Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Chalabi, an aide said. Chalabi, a Shiite Muslim, was not harmed and later returned to Baghdad, the aide said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.

Gunmen in the capital targeted Shiite Muslims returning from a religious commemoration in the holy city of Karbala, killing six pilgrims and wounding 50 others traveling in minivans and the back of trucks, police said.

Earlier, gunmen killed three civilians transporting bricks on a road outside the city of Baqouba northeast of the capital. A roadside bomb then exploded when a police patrol responded, wounding an officer, police said.

Police continued to find corpses in the shadowy war between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. Three bodies, blindfolded and bearing signs of torture, were found in a western Baghdad neighborhood just after midnight, and the body of a young man shot in the chest was discovered in Musayyib, about 40 miles south of the capital, police said.

The body of a man in an Iraqi military uniform who had been killed outside Madain was also taken to a morgue in the southern city of Kut, an official said.

Back in the capital, roadside bombs targeting police patrols wounded at least six officers -- including four who work as guards at the Education Ministry -- and two other policemen and a passer-by were wounded in a drive-by shooting, police said.

In Tuesday's attack in Muqdadiyah, about 100 gunmen cut phone wires and fired RPGs in a daring operation that freed 18 fellow insurgents who had been captured in raids Sunday.

Police said 15 other captives were sprung in the assault, which killed 30 people, including 20 Iraqi security forces.

In an Internet posting Tuesday night the military wing of the Mujaheddin Shura Council, a Sunni Muslim insurgent group, purportedly claimed it carried out the operation. The Web posting said the group killed 40 policemen, freed 33 prisoners and captured weapons. The claim could not be independently verified.

Both U.S. and Iraqi military officials had said last year that the area was no longer an insurgent stronghold, but Tuesday's attack showed the militants still could assemble a large force, capable of operating in the region virtually at will.

The insurgency's strength, spiraling sectarian violence and the continuing stalemate over forming a government in Iraq have led politicians and foreign policy experts to say Iraq was on the brink or perhaps in the midst of civil war.

An increasing number of Americans are calling for a pullout of U.S. forces regardless of the consequences for Iraq, but most mainstream Iraqi politicians do not want the troops to leave until the insurgency is defeated. Some more radical leaders, like firebrand Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, demand an immediate pullout.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.