US forces backed by aircraft killed 25 suspected insurgents in operations targeting al-Qaeda near the Iraqi capital Baghdad, the US military said yesterday.
It was the latest in a series of operations mounted against al-Qaeda, which US commanders say has been seriously weakened since the launch of a US counter-insurgency strategy to deny the militants safe haven in provinces around Baghdad.
North of the capital, in the ethnically and religiously mixed oil-producing city of Kirkuk,a suicide car bomber killed six people yesterday, police said.
The blast occurred around 8am, said police Brigadier Sarhad Qadir.
The bomber's apparent target was the convoy of a senior Kurdish police officer, Brigadier Khattab Omar, who heads the city police department's quick response force, Qadir said.
Omar was driving in a six-car convoy when the bomber rammed into his vehicle, Qadir said.
Television footage showed a charred Iraqi Humvee being towed from the scene of the blast.
Omar survived with serious injuries to his chest and head, and was being evacuated to a larger hospital, Qadir said.
Three police officers and three civilian bystanders were killed, and at least 21 total people injured, he said.
Many of the wounded were children who had been walking to school when the bomber struck. Footage from inside a nearby hospital showed a girl in a school uniform covered with blood. A child's shoe could be seen peeking out from under a tarp covering bodies of the dead.
In a statement, the US military said the suspected al-Qaeda insurgents were killed during operations late on Tuesday and early on Wednesday west of Tarmiya near Baghdad.
The statement said US forces called in aircraft to attack armed men seen acting with "hostile intent" in the area of the operation. One gunman was killed.
Ground forces then moved further into the area, where they came under fire. Troops again called in aircraft, killing 24 suspected insurgents, the statement said.
Troops found a weapons cache that included anti-aircraft guns, surface-to-surface missiles, rifles, pistols, grenades, mortar rounds and artillery shells, the US statement added.
US commanders say al-Qaeda in Iraq, a militant Sunni Islamist group blamed for most major car bomb attacks, is resilient despite the recent military gains against them and still retains the capability to launch attacks.
The US military also said one US soldier was killed by a bomb blast in Diyala province northeast of Baghdad on Wednesday.
Attacks in Baghdad and elsewhere have gradually declined since deployment of an additional 30,000 US soldiers to Iraq, part of a strategy to drag Iraq back from the brink of civil war, was completed in mid-June.