U.S., Iraqi sweep irks Sunni Arabs

Associated Press
Published March 19, 2006

BAGHDAD - American and Iraqi troops pushing through a desolate area of Iraq's Sunni Arab heartland rounded up dozens more suspected insurgents, including alleged killers of a television journalist, U.S. and Iraqi officials said Saturday.

The three-day-old sweep through villages 60 miles north of Baghdad stirred growing unease among leading Sunnis. One called it a needless "escalation" at a time of difficult negotiations over forming a broad-based government representing all of Iraq's communities.

In Baghdad, meanwhile, a dozen more bodies were found as a shadowy war of Shiite-Sunni reprisals went on. And Shiite Muslim pilgrims heading to the holy city of Karbala again came under attack, with a roadside bomb killing one and wounding five.

Reports of violence came from elsewhere as well: an oil tanker driver shot dead 50 miles southeast of Baghdad, a tribal sheik slain 30 miles west of the capital, a car bombing near a U.S. base in the northern city of Tal Afar in which the suicide driver was the only casualty.

Representatives of the squabbling Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish blocs in Iraq's new parliament were taking a break from negotiations to observe Monday's major Shiite holiday and Tuesday's Kurdish new year.

They are deadlocked over how to apportion the top jobs in the new government with minority factions seeking to limit domination by Iraq's Shiite majority.

In the counterinsurgency sweep through a 100-square-mile area of semidesert northeast of the Tigris River town of Samarra, Iraqi soldiers and units of the 101st Airborne Division had detained about 80 suspected insurgents as of Saturday, said Lt. Col. Edward S. Loomis, a U.S. spokesman. Seventeen were released after questioning, he said.

Among those detained were six people allegedly responsible for the March 11 killing of Amjad Hameed, a journalist for the Iraqi television network al-Iraqiya, and his driver, the interim Iraqi government said.

The U.S. military reported that two 101st Airborne soldiers were killed Thursday by indirect fire - usually meaning mortars - at the Speicher operating base farther north up the Tigris.