U.S. and Iraqi troops detain about 300 suspects in Abu Ghraib offensive

Almost 300 suspected insurgents were detained overnight in the largest joint U.S.-Iraqi military offensive in Baghdad, the military said Monday.

The offensive, dubbed Operation Squeeze Play, came as the American military announced Monday that five U.S. soldiers were killed in northern Iraq on Sunday _ four in separate roadside bomb attacks and one in a vehicle accident.

Two carloads of gunmen killed Maj. Gen. Wael al-Rubaei, a top national security official, and his driver in Baghdad's latest drive-by shooting. The killing, came a day after another senior government official, Trade Ministry auditing office chief Ali Moussa, was killed as part of an ongoing terror campaign that has killed more than 550 people in less than one month.

In other violence, a suicide bomber killed five people and injured 13 when he drove an explosives-packed pickup truck into a crowd of people outside a municipal council office in Tuz Khormato, 55 miles (88 Kilometers) south of the northern city of Kirkuk, said police commander Lt. Gen. Sarhat Qader.

Another two people were killed and two were injured in Kirkuk itself when a mortar round landed on a house, police Capt. Farhad Talabani said.

In the former insurgent stronghold of Samarra 95 kilometers (60 miles) north of Baghdad, three suicide bombers tried to attack an American military base, injuring three soldiers, the military said.

Operation Squeeze Play, which began Sunday and was apparently winding down on Monday, was centered on western Baghdad's Abu Ghraib district and targeted militants suspected of attacking the U.S. detention facility there and the road linking downtown to the international airport, the military said in a statement.

"This is the largest combined operation with Iraqi security forces to date," said U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Clifford Kent. "The Iraqi Security Forces have the lead in this operation while we perform shaping and supporting roles."

Seven Iraqi battalions backed by U.S. forces launched an offensive in the capital in an effort to stanch the violence that has killed more than 550 people in less than a month, targeting insurgents who have attacked the dangerous road to Baghdad's airport and Abu Ghraib prison.

"Iraqi army and ministry of interior forces worked very well together and demonstrated good, solid fundamental skills today," said Col. Mark A. Milley, commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division.

Aides to a radical anti-American Shiite cleric, meanwhile, sought to defuse tension between Sunnis and the majority Shiites after a recent series of sectarian killings. Sunnis are believed to make up the bulk of Iraq's raging insurgency.

Iraq's government took the diplomatic offensive, joining the United States in its oft-repeated demands that Syria close its porous border to foreign fighters.

Parliament was also expected to debate the release of Ghazi Hammud al-Obeidi, 65, one of the most-wanted officials from Saddam Hussein's former regime. Al-Obeidi was released last month apparently because he was apparently terminally ill with stomach cancer.

Three Romanian journalists were expected to return home Monday after they and their Iraqi-American guide were released after being held captive for nearly two months. Iraqi insurgents had demanded Romania withdraw its soldiers from Iraq. Bucharest rejected the demand.

Separately, Iraqi security forces captured Ismail Budair Ibrahim al-Obeidi, a "terrorist" close to the network of the Jordan-born militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi on Tuesday in Baqouba, northeast of Baghdad, a government statement said.

The terror suspect, also known as Abu Omar, planned car bomb attacks in Baghdad and rigged booby-trapped cars for foreign fighters, the statement said.

In charging Syria with failing to stop the influx of foreign fighters, Baghdad was restating a routine U.S. complaint.

"It is impossible for about 2,000 people coming from the Gulf to pass through Syria and cross from Qaim or other border points without being discovered, despite our repeated calls," he said.

Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said during a trip to Turkey last week that he would soon visit Syria to discuss the issue of foreign infiltration.

Syria has been coming under pressure to stop foreign fighters infiltrating into Iraq, where violence has drastically increased since the April 28 announcement of al-Jaafari's Shiite-led government. Syria has always denied the charges.

Senior aides of anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr met a key Sunnis group Sunday in a bid to soothe tensions that have flared and resulted in the death of 10 Shiite and Sunni clerics in the past two weeks.

The association's leader, Harith al-Dhari, last week pinned the killing of several Sunnis, including clerics, on the Badr Brigades, the military wing of Iraq's largest Shiite party, the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. The militia denied the charge and accused the Sunni association of trying to start a civil war.

Al-Sadr, a burly, black-bearded cleric, said in a television interview aired Sunday the talks were aimed at settling the feud between the association and the Badr Bridges. He resurfaced this week after lying low following fierce battles last year in the southern holy city of Najaf and Baghdad's impoverished Sadr City between his supporters and U.S. forces.

Sunni leaders have formed an alliance of tribal, political and religious groups to help Iraq's once dominant minority break out of its deepening isolation following a Shiite rise to power after Saddam's ouster.

The military announced Monday that three U.S soldiers were killed Sunday and one was injured in two separate attacks in the northern city of Mosul, 360 kilometers (225 miles) northwest of Baghdad, the military said Monday. It provide no details on how they died.

Another two Task Force Liberty soldiers had also been killed in separate incidents on Sunday, the first when his patrol was attack with a car bomb just north of Tikrit, 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Baghdad The other other was killed in a vehicle accident near Kirkuk.

As of Monday, May 22, 2005, at least 1,634 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

PAUL GARWOOD, Associated Press Writer

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