80 rebels killed as camp attacked, says Iraq

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The Independent Online

A raid by US and Iraqi forces on a suspected rebel training camp killed 80 militants, Iraqi officials said today.

A raid by US and Iraqi forces on a suspected rebel training camp killed 80 militants, Iraqi officials said today.

It would be the single biggest one-day death toll for rebels in months and the latest in a series of blows to the country's insurgency.

The US military announced that its air and ground forces backed Iraqi commandos during a noontime raid yesterday on the suspected training camp near Lake Tharthar in central Iraq. Seven commandos died in fighting, the US military said, but they didn't give a death toll for rebels.

Iraqi officials said today that 80 rebels died in the clash - the largest number of rebels killed in a single battle since the US Marine-led November attack on the former insurgent stronghold of Fallujah that left more than 1,000 dead. On Sunday, US forces killed 26 assailants after they were ambushed south of Baghdad.

Meanwhile politicians helping to shape a post-election government said negotiators are considering naming a Sunni Arab as defence minister in a move aimed at bringing Sunni Arabs into the political process - and perhaps deflate the insurgency they lead.

Abbas al-Biati, a top member of the United Iraqi Alliance, said negotiators from his Shiite-dominated bloc and a Kurdish coalition could tap a Sunni Arab to head the ministry of defense, which oversees the Iraqi army battling the insurgency.

"The defence ministry will go to a Sunni Arab because we do not want Arab Sunnis to feel that they are marginalized," al-Biati told The Associated Press. "They will be given one of the four major posts because we want them to feel that they are part of the political formula."

Sunni Arabs, dominant under ousted dictator Saddam Hussein, largely stayed away from the 30 January balloting amid threats against voters by the Sunni-led rebellion.

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