BAGHDAD, Iraq – Gunmen kidnapped a senior Iraqi Interior Ministry official Wednesday and the U.S. military reported the deaths of five more U.S. service members — the latest violence as Iraqi politicians struggled to meet a deadline for drafting a constitution.
A day after a group meeting of Iraqi political factions reached no consensus, representatives met privately on Wednesday to discuss the deadlock over the charter, less than a week before it needs to be approved.
The U.S. military also said Marines and Iraqi forces discovered a car bomb factory and detained 36 insurgents during a weeklong military offensive that ended Wednesday in western Iraq.
The offensive dubbed Operation Quick Strike (search) and involving about 800 U.S. Marines and 180 Iraqi soldiers was among several campaigns in recent months targeting insurgents and foreign fighters in the volatile Anbar province.
The kidnapping occurred in Baghdad's Andalus Square (search). Gunmen stopped Brig. Gen. Khudayer Abbas, who heads the administrative affairs office at the Interior Ministry, as he was driving, forced him into another vehicle and sped away, said police Maj. Abbas Mohammed Salman said.
Four American soldiers were killed late Tuesday when insurgents attacked their patrol in a northern Iraqi city, and a car bomb targeting a joint U.S.-Iraqi patrol in Baghdad killed seven people, the military said.
In the attack in the north, a Task Force Liberty patrol was investigating explosions in the area when a roadside bomb detonated. The patrol then came under small-arms fire late Tuesday in Beiji, 155 miles north of Baghdad. Five American soldiers and a U.S. contractor also were wounded.
Insurgents attacked the convoy with rocket-propelled grenades, damaging two Humvees and a Bradley Fighting Vehicle (search), said Beiji police Lt. Ali Abdul-Hameed. Witnesses said the Bradley fell into a canal and that a U.S. helicopter transported the casualties.
A car bomb exploded in the western Baghdad neighborhood of Ghazaliyah (search), killing four civilians and three police, said 1st Lt. Thair Mahmoud. Another seven people were wounded, including five U.S. soldiers who received minor injuries.
Also Tuesday, a U.S. soldier was killed during combat operations outside the capital. The soldier, assigned to 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, was killed by small arms fire near Habaniyah, 50 miles west of Baghdad.
The five deaths reported Wednesday raised to six the number of U.S. service people killed Tuesday. A suicide car bomber struck a U.S. convoy waiting at an intersection in Baghdad, killing seven people — including one American soldier — and wounding more than 90.
At least 1,841 members of the U.S. military have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
Twenty Marines were killed last week as Operation Quick Strike got under way last Wednesday, including 14 who died when their armored vehicle was hit by a massive blast near Haditha.
Nine car bombs were discovered during the sweep, the Marines said in a statement. Three were identified by a local resident while the rest were discovered in a garage where insurgents were assembling explosive-rigged vehicles.
The factory was in the northern part of Haqlaniyah, one of a cluster of towns along the volatile Euphrates River Valley, long believed to be a stronghold of Iraqi insurgents and foreign fighters.
As fighting in Iraq rages on, the United States hopes progress on the political front, including adoption of a democratic constitution, will help deflate the Sunni Arab-led rebellion and enable the Americans and their partners to begin withdrawing troops next year.
"It's important that they stay with their timetable" on the constitution, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Tuesday. "This will be a critical step in persuading the majority of the Iraqis that the new Iraq is worth fighting for, that they have a stake in it."
Rumsfeld told Pentagon reporters that the constitution "could well turn out to be one of the most powerful weapons to be deployed against the terrorists" and the insurgents are "determined to stop the constitutional process through terror and intimidation."
But Iraqi political leaders drafting the charter have shown little sign of compromise over questions like the role of Islam and federalism in the nation's future.
Faction leaders conferred for about four hours Tuesday night hoping to overcome their differences and produce a charter by Monday. Individual factions met privately Wednesday, but President Jalal Talabani (search) said no formal collective meeting would be held.
The constitution also needs approval from voters in an Oct. 15 referendum. Passage would lead to elections in mid-December.
At the beginning of Tuesday's meeting, presidential spokesman Kamran Qaradaghi (search) told reporters the latest talks would focus on federalism, distribution of wealth and the elections law.
Kurds demand that Iraq be transformed into a federal state so they can continue to run their autonomous mini-state in the north. Sunni Arabs oppose federalism because they fear the Kurds want to secede and dismember Iraq.
Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani (search) joined the talks Tuesday. Barzani, who had been stranded in northern Iraq by the sandstorms, has vowed not to compromise on federalism.
Meanwhile, a group of women activists issued a statement Tuesday insisting that the new constitution guarantee women's rights "as an essential part of guaranteeing human rights of all members of Iraqi society" regardless of gender, race, religion or sect.