Six Killed in Raid Near Baghdad; U.S. Death Toll in Iraq Hits 3,000

U.S. troops killed six people Monday during a raid on a possible safe house for Al Qaeda in Iraq, the military said, while the death toll of American service members in Iraq hit 3,000.

The attack occurred near the west Baghdad offices of Saleh al-Mutlaq, a senior Sunni Arab politician of the National Dialogue Front, the U.S military and Iraqi police said. American troops received heavy gunfire and grenade launches from the building, the military said.

Police said the home of Salama al-Khafaji, a former Shiite lawmaker who abandoned her residence after an assassination attempt last year, was also targeted.

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The U.S. military said ground forces raided the buildings after learning that the location was a possible safe house for Al Qaeda in Iraq. Six people were killed and one person was detained, the military said.

But police described the incident as an airstrike that killed four members of a family and wounded a guard outside al-Khafaji's house. A man at the scene said a guard at al-Mutlaq's office was also killed, but the police could not confirm his account.

AP Television News video showed rubble in the area and what appeared to be a long smear of blood from a body dragged across the floor. Walls in the buildings were pitted with marks apparently from bullets and shrapnel.

The U.S. military announced Sunday the deaths of two more soldiers, raising the number of Americans killed to the somber milestone of 3,000 dead, according to an Associated Press count.

The White House said President Bush mourned each death but would not issue a statement about the 3,000th.

At least 111 U.S. service members have been reported killed in December, the bloodiest month of 2006. That brought the toll of U.S. military deaths in Iraq to at least 820 in 2006, according to the AP count.

One soldier was killed Saturday in a roadside bombing in the capital, the military said.

The Defense Department said on its Web site that another soldier died Thursday and identified him as Spc. Dustin R. Donica, 22, of Spring, Texas. He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Airborne Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division.

There was a relative lull in the bombings and assassinations that have threatened to rip Iraq apart along sectarian seams. Police reported finding 12 bodies dumped in Baghdad Sunday as well as 12 other violent deaths nationwide, both relatively low numbers by recent standards.

Also Sunday, Saddam Hussein was buried in the town where he was born. One day after being executed, the deposed Iraqi leader's body was taken to a U.S. military base in Tikrit, 80 miles north of the capital. He was interred in the nearby village of Ouja, where he was born 69 years ago.

Hundreds of clan members and supporters visited Saddam's grave, which was likely to become a shrine to the fallen leader. Dozens of relatives and other mourners, some of them crying and moaning, attended Saddam's funeral shortly before dawn.

In his New Year's greeting, Bush noted the continuing violence in Iraq.

"Last year, America continued its mission to fight and win the war on terror and promote liberty as an alternative to tyranny and despair," Bush said in the statement wishing Americans a happy new year.

"In the New Year, we will remain on the offensive against the enemies of freedom, advance the security of our country, and work toward a free and unified Iraq. Defeating terrorists and extremists is the challenge of our time, and we will answer history's call with confidence and fight for liberty without wavering."

A message attributed to deputy Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri congratulated Islamic holy warriors around the world on the feast of Eid al-Adha and on "the defeat of the Americans and their crusader allies in Afghanistan and Iraq."

The message could not immediately be authenticated, but it appeared Monday on two Islamic Web sites known for publishing militant material.

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