BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraqi and U.S. forces captured two alleged death squad leaders including one who is believed to have tortured and killed people in a Shiite mosque, the U.S. military said in a statement received Monday.
One U.S. soldier was killed Monday in a roadside explosion, a day after two Marines and a sailor were killed in combat in the restive Anbar province, the U.S. military command said.
The alleged death squad leaders were captured Sunday in southern Baghdad during simultaneous raids as part of a new security strategy to stem the Shiite-Sunni sectarian violence being fueled by death squads and torture cells of both communities.
Some 12,000 U.S. and Iraqi forces are being deployed in the capital as part of the security plan, which involves cleaning up one neighborhood after another with cordon and search operations.
Both men "exercise control over all death squad cell activity" in the Sunni districts of Dora and Sahha and the predominantly Shiite Abu D'Shair in Baghdad, the statement said.
"One of these individuals also allegedly controls a Baghdad husayniyah (Shiite mosque) where he tortures and kills Iraqi citizens," the statement said without elaborating. Four other suspicious individuals also were detained during this operation, it said.
There was no way to independently verify the reported arrests and the claims about the two men's actions.
A separate military statement said a U.S. soldier died Monday when the vehicle he was riding in was struck by an improvised explosive device, the Army's term for homemade bomb, north of Baghdad. It gave no other details.
Two Marines and a sailor, assigned to the Regimental Combat Team 7, "died from wounds sustained due to enemy action" on Sunday in Anbar, an earlier statement said without elaborating. Anbar province is the stronghold of the Sunni Arab insurgency west of Baghdad.
At least 2,610 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. The figure includes seven military civilians. At least 2,073 died as a result of hostile action, according to the military's numbers.
Meanwhile, Iraq enjoyed a rare day of relative peace Monday, as residents made special efforts to watch on television the opening of Saddam Hussein's trial for genocide.
"I'm happy to see justice taking its course today," said Haider Kadhim, 28, the owner of an electronics shop in Baghdad, a city that suffers from chronic power shortage.
Kadhim said he bought 5.28 gallons gasoline for his generator to ensure electricity to watch the trial, which was broadcast on all local channels with a 20-minute delay. This was to ensure that sensitive portions with security implications could be censored.
It was not clear if the trial — which had Iraqis glued to their television sets at homes, offices and coffee shops — was responsible for the unusually low level of violence in the country Monday: three soldiers and a civilian were gunned down in separate incidents in Baghdad, and one person was shot dead in the northern city of Mosul.
Also Monday, U.S. troops detained police Col. Jassim Keno Al-Obeydi, while he was participating in a meeting of police commanders in Kirkuk 180 miles north of Baghdad, said police Col. Anwar Qader.
He said al-Obeydi is accused of arresting four army soldiers last Wednesday and torturing them.