U.S. Battles Militants Near Fallujah

A car bomb exploded near a police patrol in Baghdad's fashionable Jadiriyah (search) district, killing at six people, including three police officers, and wounding 26 others.

The attack Sunday came a day after insurgents ambushed and killed nine Iraqi policemen as they returned home from a training course in Jordan — the latest strikes in an insurgent campaign against Iraq's new police force, which is seen as collaborating with the U.S.-back government.

On Monday, Iraqi officials said a cash-for-weapons program for Shiite fighters in Baghdad's Sadr City (search) and other locations was extended another two days until Tuesday.

The car bomb in Baghdad's Jadiriyah district hit a cafe near al-Hussein Square late Sunday night, said spokesman Col. Adnan Abdul-Rahman. The vehicle was loaded with 1,100 to 1,300 pounds of explosives, he said.

Abdul-Rahman said the bomb killed six people, including three policeman. Among the 26 wounded, were 11 policemen.

The cafe is located in an area with several foreign embassies and corporate offices. Brig. Peter Hutchinson, commander of Australian forces in the Middle East, said the blast occurred a few hundred yards from the Australian embassy, though no Australian casualties were reported.

"The blast was actually some distance from the embassy and our security detachment — over a few hundred meters — and there are no military personnel that were injured," he told Australian television's Nine network.

Elsewhere, police said nine Iraqi policemen returning from training in Jordan were ambushed and killed Saturday in Latifiyah, an insurgent stronghold 25 miles south of Baghdad. The attackers escaped. Latifiyah is part of a belt of towns just south of the capital where kidnappings and ambushes have been common.

In Fallujah, the top negotiator for the rebel-held city in peace talks was released from U.S. custody on Monday, three days after he had been detained following the breakdown of negotiations with the Iraqi government.

Sheik Khaled al-Jumeili, who spoke to the Associated Press from his home, said he had been detained by U.S. troops, along with three others, on Friday. Witnesses said the Islamic cleric had been picked up after he left a mosque following Friday prayers in a village about 10 miles south of Fallujah.

Al-Jumeili said the four men were taken to a Marine base outside Fallujah and then transported by helicopter to another location.

During his detention, Al-Jumeili said he was well treated by the Americans, and was not handcuffed or blindfolded like his companions. The other three men have not been released, he said.

He was released early Monday morning and arrived at his home in Fallujah at 4 a.m, he said. The Interior Ministry said al-Jumeili was being released on the orders of interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi.

Al-Jumeili said he was very exhausted from his ordeal and made only one statement.

"I would like to tell all Iraqis that spies follow them everywhere and they must be vigilant," he said.

U.S. forces have been waging days of air and ground assaults in the insurgent bastion of Fallujah, targeting key planning centers of Jordanian-born terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (search) and his group Tawhid and Jihad, which has claimed responsibility for numerous suicide bombings and hostage beheadings.

On Sunday, an Internet statement from Tawhid and Jihad claimed allegiance to Usama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, saying it would follow bin Laden's orders from now on.

Allawi had demanded on Wednesday that Fallujah leaders turn over al-Zarqawi, who is believed to be in the area, or else face military action.

The latest attacks began Thursday after Fallujah clerics rejected the "impossible" demand to turn over the terrorist leader, insisting that al-Zarqawi was not in the city. Fallujah fell under control of radical clerics and their armed mujahedeen fighters after the Marines lifted their three-week siege of the city in April.

On Sunday, the crackle of automatic weapons fire and the thud of artillery echoed across Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad, as fighting between American troops and insurgents raged on the eastern and southern edges of the city, witnesses said.

Clashes blocked the main road leading to Baghdad, and plumes of smoke rose above the flat-roofed houses in the city's Askari and Shuhada neighborhoods.

Witnesses said a Humvee was seen burning in the eastern edge of the city, and hospital officials reported three civilians were killed. The U.S. military reported no casualties.

U.S. Marines said Sunday that they used small arms, tanks, artillery, mortars and seven precision airstrikes against Fallujah insurgents.

In Sydney, Australia's foreign minister said Monday that an Australian journalist was held hostage in Baghdad for 24 hours over the weekend before being released unharmed. The man, whose identity was not released, is the first Australian confirmed as having been held hostage in Iraq.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said the man was in good condition and had asked that details surrounding his detention, including his name, not be released until he leaves Iraq.

"In this particular case the journalist went out to investigate a story, I understand, and went to a part of Baghdad he was advised not to go to, but he went there anyway ... he was detained but just for 24 hours and subsequently has been released," Downer told Melbourne radio station 3AW.