U.S. troops backed by a helicopter and jets struck a suspected safehouse of foreign insurgents, killing 12 militants and a woman in a raid near the site where an American helicopter crashed, the U.S. military said Wednesday.
In Baghdad, a bomb ripped through a minibus carrying passengers to their Shiite neighborhood, killing four people, who were among at least 12 Iraqis killed in violence Wednesday. Police also found 11 bodies dumped in Baghdad and elsewhere, the apparent victims of sectarian killings.
The violence came as Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish politicians haggled over forming a new government aimed at stopping the bloodshed.
The new Sunni vice president, Tariq al-Hashimi, made a show of unity with his Kurdish and Shiite colleagues, calling for Iraq’s insurgency to be put down by force.
Al-Hashimi shrugged off a videotape by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in which the al-Qaida in Iraq leader tried to rally Sunni Arabs to fight the new government and denounced Sunnis who cooperate with it as “agents” of the Americans.
“I say, yes, we’re agents. We’re agents for Islam, for the oppressed. We have to defend the future of our people,” al-Hashimi said at a news conference with President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, and his fellow vice president, Shiite Adil Abdul-Mahdi.
“We believe that Iraq’s interest now is to normalize the situation and maintain stability, as well as to impose security and peace by force,” he said.
Meeting with Rice, Rumsfeld
The three spoke after meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who made an unannounced visit to Iraq for talks on the new government.
U.S. officials are hoping Sunni participation in a national unity government led by Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will undermine the Sunni-led insurgency as well as reduce Shiite-Sunni violence that has flared in the past two months.
Coalition forces hit the suspected safehouse Tuesday in Youssifiyah, 12 miles south of Baghdad, near where a U.S. Apache helicopter crashed April 1. The U.S. command said the helicopter was believed to have been shot down.
The Mujahedeen Shura Council, purportedly a new umbrella organization that includes al-Qaida in Iraq and smaller insurgent groups, claimed responsibility for that attack, and Al-Jazeera TV aired footage provided by the insurgents which they claimed showed parts of the wreckage.
The U.S. military did not say whether the suspected militants killed in the raid were believed to have been involved in the helicopter crash. The area is part of the infamous “triangle of death” and scene of numerous ambushes against U.S. and Iraqi troops, foreigners and Shiite civilians.
According to the U.S. statement, intelligence led coalition forces to the safe house, and when they reached it they came under direct fire.
The soldiers fought back with the support of a coalition helicopter and jets, killing five militants outside the safe house, including one armed with a shoulder-fired rocket, and destroying the building, the U.S. military statement said.
A search of the wreckage found the bodies of seven heavily armed insurgents and an unidentified woman, the military said.
The troops also discovered suicide notes on one of the militants, explosives vests used by suicide bombers, hand grenades and ammunition, the statement said.
Minibus blast kills 4
In Baghdad on Wednesday, a bomb exploded aboard a minibus, killing four Iraqi passengers and wounding two, police said. The bomb, hidden in a shopping bag, exploded as the minibus was driving from the center of the capital to a Shiite neighborhood, said police Maj. Mahir Hamad.
Such privately owned minibuses are frequently used as public transport in the capital.
The bodies of five Iraqis who had been kidnapped and killed were found in Baghdad, and six bodies were discovered in Karbala, 50 miles south of the Iraqi capital, police said. All the Karbala victims had been shot in the right eye, said police.
In southwest Baghdad, police received a tip that two men were traveling in the area with explosives hidden beneath their clothes, said police Capt. Jamil Hussein. After a brief gunbattle, the explosives detonated, killing both men, he said.
In other violence, five roadside bombs, two mortars and an attack by gunmen killed two Iraqis and wounded 17, six of them policemen, authorities said.
A string of shootings in Baghdad on Wednesday evening killed six more Iraqis — including a Sunni cleric and an army officer whose home was stormed by gunmen.
That raised to 108 the number of Iraqi civilians or police who have been killed in insurgency- or sectarian-related violence since al-Maliki was tapped as Iraq’s prime minister designate on Saturday and asked to form a national unity government.