US claims 75 insurgents killed after assault on rebel enclave

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The Independent Online

American forces claimed to have killed 75 insurgents in an offensive in western Iraq, while the number of US soldiers killed in Iraq since the invasion in2003 has risen to 1,600,with 12,000 wounded.

American forces claimed to have killed 75 insurgents in an offensive in western Iraq, while the number of US soldiers killed in Iraq since the invasion in2003 has risen to 1,600,with 12,000 wounded.

Some 1,000 American soldiers supported by jet aircraft and helicopters are fighting around Obeidi and Qaim on the Euphrates near the Syrian border - both insurgent strongholds that have been the scene of frequent battles in the past.

In the capital, suicide bombers continue to make daily attacks. The sound of an explosion reverberated across south Baghdad yesterday morning as a vehicle packed with explosives blew up near a police station. It killed two policemen and one civilian and wounded six police and three civilians.

The bomber appears to have been trying to attack a police station in the Shebab district. He drove across an open space, the ground covered in rotting garbage, towards the rear entrance of the station but his way was blocked by two patrol cars.

The driver, almost certainly a non-Iraqi by past experience, detonated his explosives, the blast killing or wounding all nearby. It was powerful enough to destroy a spider's web of electric power lines overhead that workmen were trying to fix later. The burnt-out wreckage of a police car lay nearby.

There has been a sharp increase in the number of suicide bomb attacks, the number in April double that of the month before. The suicide bombers are mostly pious young men from Saudi Arabia or Yemen, but the infrastructure of safe houses, explosives' specialists and providers of vehicles and intelligence is Iraqi.

The US military said yesterday that it had detained the man who planned an assassination attempt on Iyad Allawi, then prime minister, in a suicide bomb attack on 20 April.

US casualties, down after the elections on 30 January, are beginning to climb again with eight soldiers killed over the weekend. There had been an apparent hiatus in attacks by purely nationalist groups seeking an American withdrawal. US forces also left more of the fighting to the newly trained Iraqi army.

Ibrahim al-Jaafari's government, formed at the weekend after three months, will have difficulty in getting its hands on the real levers of power. The CIA still has overall control and provides funds for the Mukhabarat, the main security agency, according to a report by Knight Ridder Newspapers.

The US has taken the national intelligence archives, the accumulated information gathered by the Mukhabarat over the past year, to the US headquarters in Baghdad. The US, which theoretically handed over sovereignty over Iraq to the government of Mr Allawi last June, in practice kept control over the most important security services. It is worried the information it has acquired will be passed on to Iran by the Shia religious parties, formerly based in Iran, and dominant in the new cabinet.

Hadi al-Ameri, a member of the National Assembly and commander of the Badr Brigade, the military wing of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, was quoted as saying: "I prefer to call it the American Intelligence of Iraq, not the Iraqi Intelligence Service."

He added: "It is not working for the Iraqi government - it's working for the CIA." He said that if this went on the Iraqi government would have to create a new intelligence service answerable to itself.

The US justifies not handing over the intelligence files to the new government because it fears that Iran will find out how much the US knows about its operations in Iraq. The Shia political parties believe, however, that the US does not want them to find out the extent to which they have been the targets of surveillance.

The Interior Ministry's and the Defence Ministry's intelligence agencies are headed by Kurds - the one Iraqi community fully supporting the occupation.

The Mukhabarat is headed by Mohammed Abdullah Shahwani, whose three sons were executed after a failed coup against Saddam Hussein in 1996. His deputy in charge of daily operations is also a Kurd. Only 12 per cent of Mukhabarat officers are reportedly Shia.

¿ Iraqi militants claimed in an Internet posting yesterday that they had taken a Japanese security contractor hostage after ambushing a convoy in western Iraq. The man's employer confirmed he and some other employees were missing after the attack.