15 Al Qaeda-Linked Insurgents Killed in Baghdad

Elite Iraqi police forces dropped off by U.S. helicopters staged a raid against an Al Qaeda-linked Sunni militant group Saturday in Baghdad, killing 15 insurgents and capturing five, the Interior Ministry said.

Members of the militant group were hiding in two abandoned houses in a Sunni stronghold in southern Baghdad, and resisted the assault by the Iraqi forces, who were backed by gunfire from the helicopters, ministry spokesman Abdul-Karim Khalaf said.

Those killed and captured were believed to be part of the militant group known as the Omar Brigade, which Khalaf said was behind a series of kidnappings and killings of Shiites in the neighborhood.

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"We were provided with helicopter support by our friends in the multinational forces and we did not suffer any casualties," Khalaf said.

Separately, the deaths of two American soldiers and a Marine were announced. One soldier was killed Saturday in a roadside bombing in northern Baghdad. Another soldier was killed Friday by a roadside bomb in the northwest province of Ninevah, while a Marine was killed Friday in fighting in the Anbar province west of Baghdad, the military said.

Saturday's raid came a day after a purported leader of the Omar Brigade, Tami al-Majmaie, and 10 of his deputies were reportedly captured in Balad, 50 miles north of Baghdad.

Elsewhere in Baghdad, Iraqi police and hospital officials said a joint U.S.-Iraqi force searched a hospital for an unspecified target in the volatile Sunni-dominated western neighborhood of Yarmouk.

The Americans confiscated weapons and ID cards from the police and guards at the hospital after a confrontation with a guard demanding they leave their weapons at the door, Khalaf said.

"We resolved the matter within minutes and the Americans gave the Iraqi policemen their weapons and IDs cards back and now everything is OK," he said.

Dr. Haqi Ismail, the hospital's manager, said the raid occurred at 4:30 a.m.

"They were looking for someone, they searched all the rooms and the emergency unit," he said.

The U.S. military did not respond to request for comment on either raid.

U.S. and Iraqi forces are gearing up for a joint security operation aimed at ending attacks between Shiites and Sunnis that have been spiraling since the Feb. 22 bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra.

President Bush has committed an additional 21,500 American soldiers for the drive and U.S. commanders have been promised a freer hand against both Sunni insurgents and Shiite militiamen.

The top American commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, said Friday that he thought some of the extra troops for Baghdad might return home after a few months.

"I think it's probably going to be the summer, late summer, before you get to the point where people in Baghdad feel safe in their neighborhoods," Casey said.

On Friday, U.S. and Iraqi forces swooped into a mosque complex in eastern Baghdad before dawn and detained Abdul-Hadi al-Darraji. The office of Muqtada al-Sadr said al-Darraji was media director for the cleric's political movement and demanded his immediate release.

The U.S. military, in a statement that did not name al-Darraji, said special Iraqi army forces operating with U.S. advisers had "captured a high-level, illegal armed group leader" in Baghdad's Baladiyat neighborhood, which is adjacent to Sadr City, the stronghold of al-Sadr's militia, the Mahdi Army. It said two other suspects were also detained.

Nassar al-Rubaie, the head of al-Sadr's bloc in parliament, accused U.S. forces of trying to provoke the Sadrists into violence ahead of the security operation.

He said al-Darraji "is a peaceful man and what was mentioned in the American release is lies and justification for the aggression against al-Sadr's movement."

An adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki complained there was no coordination with the political leadership in the arrest.

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