Iraqi security forces launched a high-profile crackdown targeting terrorists in this battle-scarred city yesterday, but insurgents hit back with suicide bombings and ambushes that killed at least 17 people.
A British soldier was also killed in a bomb blast in southern Iraq yesterday, while the US military announced the death of a US Marine, who was slain in a homemade bomb attack northwest of Baghdad.
Operation Lightning was launched as a direct challenge to the bloody wave of militant attacks that have killed more than 700 people since the April 28 announcement of Iraq's new Shiite-led government, according to a news agency's count.
It is the largest Iraqi-led operation launched since Saddam Hussein's ouster two years ago.
But despite the heavier than normal Iraqi police and army presence throughout the capital and on its southern and northern outskirts, insurgents kept up their steady pace of violence.
A suicide attacker detonated a car bomb outside the heavily fortified Iraqi Oil Ministry and killed two security guards and wounded a policeman and passer-by, said ministry spokesman Assem Jihad.
The blast happened at about 1:20pm when the militant tried to ram a late model Volkswagen sedan packed with explosives through the gate of the ministry building, located in eastern Baghdad, Jihad said.
Guards fired on the vehicle which exploded about 20m from the gate, killing at least two guards, Jihad said.
Before dawn, insurgents attacked an Iraqi army checkpoint in Youssifiyah, 20km south of Baghdad, killing nine soldiers and injuring one, said Dr Dawood Al Taaei of nearby Mahmoudiya hospital.
Gunmen killed two Iraqi police sergeants employed by the Iraqi Cabinet in a drive-by shooting yesterday in Dora, police Captain Firas Qaiti said.
Another two Iraqi police commandos were killed and five injured in a car bomb blast at 11am at Madain about 20km southeast of Baghdad, police Colonel Selam Mehmood.
A suicide car bomber, apparently targeting a US convoy, exploded his vehicle yesterday and killed two Iraqis and injured nine others in northern Iraq, said police Brigadier Sarhat Qadir.
The attack happened near the headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan in Tuz Khormato, south of Kirkuk, 290km north of Baghdad, said Qadir.
"With the escalating operations by security forces, we expect such reactions coming to the surface, but this will have no affect on the operations," Laith Kuba, spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, said during a press conference.
In related news, a militant Sunni group said in an Internet message that a Japanese hostage held in Iraq died from wounds he received after opening fire on his captors who had not intended to kill him.
Relatives and officials confirmed Saturday that a man shown in a video released by the Islamic militants in Iraq was missing Japanese security contractor Akihiko Saito, but could not verify the fighters' claim he was dead.
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