Al-Qaida fighters were said to attack a Sunni village east of Baqouba on Thursday and kill its leader leader who had led the community in an uprising against the terrorist organization.
The attack began at 6:30 a.m. by about 25 gunmen on the Ibrahim al-Yahya village when the fighters exploded a bomb at the house of the sheik, destroying his home and killing him and one member of his family. Ten people were wounded, including four other members of the family and passersby. Some of the wounded were hit by gunfire.
"They were shouting Allah Akbar and Curse be upon the Renegades," said Umm Ahmed, who was among the three women wounded in the attack. She refused to give her full name fearing retribution. "This attack will cause the uprising against them to spread to other villages."
A police vehicle rushing to the attack scene crashed and two policemen were killed, according to officials in the Diyala provincial police force who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.
Armed men in the village assembled and drove al-Qaida back in a 30-minute gunbattle, witnesses said.
Al-Qaida has been forced to fight a rear-guard action against many of its former allies in the Sunni community who have risen up against the organization because of its brutality and attempts to impose the group's austere version of Islam.
The uprising began spontaneously in Anbar province, one a bastion of the Sunni insurgency in the west of Iraq, and has spread to Diyala province and some Baghdad neighborhoods.
A U.S. soldier was killed and four were wounded in combat operations west of the capital, the military reported Thursday. The attack occurred Wednesday. No other details were provided.
The death raised to at least 3,723 members of the U.S. military who have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
The U.S. general who commands troops in northern Iraq issued a statement of condolences for the 14 soldiers who were killed Wednesday when a Blackhawk helicopter crashed shortly after picking up a group of troopers who had just completed a night operation in Tamim province, home to the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.
"There is no doubt this is a tragic event, not only for Task Force Lightning, but also for the families and fellow Soldiers in the Schofield and Fort Lewis communities," said Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, commander of Task Force Lightning and the 25th Infantry Division.
"I extend my sincere condolences to those deeply affected by the loss of these warriors."
The military statement said those killed included four Fort Lewis, Washington-based aircrew members and 10 Schofield Barracks, Hawaii-based passengers.
Wednesday's crash was the Pentagon's worst single-day death toll in Iraq since January and indicated how forces are relying heavily on air power in offensives across northern regions after rooting out many militant strongholds in Baghdad and central regions.
But extremists are striking back.
A suicide truck bombing against a police station in the northern oil hub of Beiji claimed at least 45 lives - 25 policemen and 20 civilians - amid a series of deadly attacks north of the capital.
The growing bloodshed in the north carries a mixed message. It suggests some success for the U.S.-led security sweeps seeking to reclaim control of areas in and around Baghdad. But it also highlights the apparent resilience of groups such as al-Qaida in Iraq as they retaliate and seek new footholds.
The White House, meanwhile, sought to quiet a political tempest with Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.
President Bush, speaking to a veterans' convention in Kansas City, Mo., called al-Maliki "a good man with a difficult job." Bush added: "I support him."
Just hours earlier, al-Maliki lashed out at American criticism over his government's inability to bridge political divisions or stop the violence, warning he could "find friends elsewhere."
The spat appeared to ease, but al-Maliki's sharp words signaled a fraying relationship with his key backer nearly three weeks before Congress receives a pivotal progress report on Iraq.
The Sept. 15 deadline for the Iraq progress to Congress leaves Bush little time to show that the U.S. troop buildup is succeeding in providing the enhanced security the Iraqi leaders need to forge a unified way forward.
U.S. commanders have warned that extremists would step up the violence this month in a bid to upstage the report, which comes amid a fierce debate over whether Bush should start withdrawing American troops.
A string of attacks hit across northern Iraq.
The deadliest strike blasted a police station in a residential area in Beiji, 155 miles (249.4 kilometers) north of Baghdad, according to police and hospital officials.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to release the information, said 25 policemen and 20 civilians were killed. The officials also said 57 civilians and 23 officers were wounded.
Jassim Saleh, 41, who lives about 500 yards (457 meters) from the blast site, said he saw an explosives-laden truck carrying stones ram the police station. But other reports described it as a fuel tanker.
"It was a horrible scene. I can't describe it," he said. "The bodies were scattered everywhere. I was injured in my hand and a leg, but I took three wounded people to the hospital in my car."
Brig. Gen. Kevin Bergner, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, said the attack bore all the hallmarks of al-Qaida in Iraq, which appears to be trying to retrench in parts of northern Iraq.
"It appears to be something that is consistent with an al-Qaida-related attack," he told AP Radio in an interview.
Later Wednesday, a suicide bomber on a motorcycle set off a blast near four police vehicles parked near grocery stores in Muqdadiyah, about 60 miles (96.6 kilometers) north of Baghdad, killing six people, including two policemen, and wounding 35 people, police said.
A roadside bomb also targeted a police patrol in Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown 80 miles (128.7 kilometers) north of Baghdad, killing one officer and wounding three people, authorities said.
The U.S. military said a twin vehicle bombing at a joint U.S.-Iraqi outpost in north Baghdad killed four Iraqi soldiers and wounded 11 Americans, in the 1st Cavalry Division. Four Iraqi soldiers also were wounded.
The military statement Thursday said eight Iraqis were detained because they were believed to have information about the attack.
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