BAGHDAD – An al-Qaida-linked suicide bomber struck a safehouse occupied by an insurgent group that has turned against the terror network. Friday’s attack northeast of Baghdad killed two other militants, police said, the latest sign that an internal Sunni power struggle is spreading.
The U.S. military also announced the deaths of five more servicemen. At least 126 American troops were killed in Iraq in May, the third-deadliest month for U.S. forces since the war began more than four years ago.
May was also the third-deadliest for Iraqis since The Associated Press began tracking civilian casualties in April 2005. At least 2,155 Iraqis were killed last month, according to the AP count. The Iraqi government put the number at 2,123, according to officials at the Interior Ministry, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.
The explosion in Baqouba came as Iraqi and U.S. troops fanned out in the Sunni stronghold of Amariyah in the capital, enforcing an indefinite curfew after heavily armed residents clashed with al-Qaida in Iraq fighters, apparently fed up with the group’s brutal tactics.
“Al-Qaida fighters and leaders have completely destroyed Amariyah,” said Abu Ahmed, a 40-year-old Sunni father of four who said he joined in the clashes. “No one can venture out, and all the businesses are closed. They kill everyone who criticizes them and is against their acts, even if they are Sunnis.”
Other residents said the clashes began after al-Qaida militants abducted and tortured Sunnis from the area. That prompted a large number of residents, including many members of the rival Islamic Army armed with guns and rocket-propelled grenades, to rise up against the terror network. U.S. forces joined them in the fighting Wednesday and Thursday.
Ahmed denied being a member of any insurgent group but said he sympathizes with “honest Iraqi resistance,” referring to those opposed both to U.S.-led efforts in Iraq and to the brutal tactics of al-Qaida.
With the insurgency appearing increasingly fragmented, Iraqi officials congratulated Amariyah residents for confronting al- Qaida.
“Government security forces are now in control of the Amariyah district,” Iraqi military spokesman Qassim al-Moussawi was quoted as saying by Iraqi state TV. He also lauded “the cooperation of local residents with the government.”
U.S. and Iraqi officials have claimed recent success in the effort to isolate al-Qaida, particularly in the western Anbar province, where many Sunni tribes have banded together to fight the terror network.
A growing number of Sunni tribes have reportedly been turning against al-Qaida elsewhere as well, repelled by the terror network’s sheer brutality and austere religious extremism.
Nationwide, at least 32 Iraqis were killed or found dead on Friday, including 15 bullet-riddled bodies that turned up on the streets of Baghdad, apparent victims of so-called sectarian death squads usually run by Shiite militias.
Meanwhile, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of Iraq’s largest Shiite party, returned to Baghdad from Iran after completing the first phase of his treatment for lung cancer, according to the Web site of the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq.
U.S. military deaths
Latest identifications reported by the military of U.S. personnel killed in Iraq:
Five soldiers were killed Monday when their vehicle was struck by an explosive in Abu Sayda. All five were assigned to the 6th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas. Killed were: Army 1st Lt. Kile West, 23, Pasadena, Texas. Army Sgt. Anthony Ewing, 22, Phoenix, Ariz. Army Cpl. Zachary Baker, 24, Vilonia, Ark. Army Cpl. James Summers, 21, Bourbon, Mo. Army Spc. Alexandre Alexeev, 23, Wilmington, Calif.
Three soldiers were killed Wednesday when their vehicle struck an explosive in Baghdad. All three were assigned to the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Schweinfurt, Germany. Killed were: Army Sgt. Bacilio Cuellar, 24, Odessa, Texas. Army Spc. James Lundin, 20, Bellport, N.Y. Army Pfc. Joshua Moore, 20, Russellville, Ky.
Army Pfc. Matthew Baylis, 20, Oakdale, N.Y., died Thursday in Baghdad of wounds suffered Wednesday during small-arms fire; assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, Fort Carson, Colo.
Army Pfc. Matthew Bean, 22, Pembroke, Mass.; died Thursday at the National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, Md., of wounds suffered on May 19 in Lutifiyah when he was struck by enemy small-arms fire; assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 15th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), Fort Drum, N.Y.