Source AP ©

Four suspects killed during U.S. troops' raids

Four suspected insurgents were killed and nine others were detained during series of raids of U.S.-led forces targeting car bombing network across Iraq, the military said.

In one raid early Friday, troops acting on intelligence obtained in previous operations approached a building near Taji, an air base 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of Baghdad, suspected of housing a car bombing cell responsible for attacks on Iraqi civilians and U.S.-led forces, the military said.

The troops came under fire from four armed men, whom they killed in a gunbattle, the military said. One of those killed was suspected of being a leader of the cell with ties to al-Qaida in Iraq's top leaders, the military said.

U.S. forces have staged several raids in the area in recent weeks aimed at the terror network's leadership, including one in which they killed al-Qaida propagandist Muharib Abdul-Latif al-Jubouri earlier this month.

The raids come as the military has been focusing on disrupting car bomb making factories after several recent high-profile attacks that have killed hundreds in Baghdad and surrounding areas in recent weeks.

U.S. officials say al-Qaida-linked Sunni insurgents are trying to provoke retaliatory violence from mainly Shiite militias, who had agreed to lay low to avoid confrontations with Americans during a 12-week-old security crackdown in the capital.

Forces also carried out raids in Baghdad and the northern city of Mosul on Thursday and Friday, detaining a total of nine people suspected of producing bombs and smuggling foreign fighters into the country to carry out attacks against U.S. troops, the military said.

A U.S. soldier from the Multinational Division-North was killed Thursday from an explosion during combat operations in Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad, the military announced Friday. The death raised to at least 3,384, the members of the U.S. military who have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

The violence came as radical Shiite politicians pressed for legislation demanding a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S.-led troops and a freeze on the number of foreign forces already in the country.

The proposed legislation, drafted by the parliamentary bloc loyal to anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, was signed by 144 members of the 275-member house, parliamentary officials said Thursday.

The Sadrist bloc, which holds 30 parliamentary seats and sees the U.S.-led forces as an occupying army, has pushed similar bills before, but this would be the first time it persuaded a majority of lawmakers to sign on.

The measure has not yet been introduced in parliament and was unlikely to be passed in its present form. But the signatures reflected growing disenchantment among the lawmakers over U.S. involvement in Iraq and the government's failure to curb the violence in the country.

It also appeared part of a campaign by al-Sadr's followers to carve out a strong opposition position after they quit Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Cabinet last month over the government's refusal to demand a timetable for the U.S. to leave.

The White House questioned whether Sadrists had the votes in parliament.

"The president of Iraq, the vice presidents, and the prime minister all support keeping U.S. troops in Iraq," National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said in Washington. "The Sadrists often makes these claims, yet rarely produce a bill, let alone a majority."

Despite al-Sadr's bill, Shiite parties still represented in the Cabinet are not keen to see U.S. troops leave until Iraqi forces are ready to take over security. Al-Maliki relies heavily on U.S. support to hold his factious administration together.

Ali al-Adeeb, a senior Shiite lawmaker and confidante of al-Maliki, was skeptical about the wisdom of asking foreign forces to leave.

"Their withdrawal will not benefit anyone if our forces are not ready," al-Adeeb said. "There must be a commitment from foreign parties to train our forces."

Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman said he supported the draft but only on condition that the withdrawal timetable be linked to a schedule for training and equipping Iraq's security forces.

"But the sponsors of the legislation did not include our observations in the draft. This is deception," he said. That suggested that some who endorsed the bill will either vote against it or abstain.

The proposed bill would require the Iraqi government to seek approval from parliament before it requests an extension of the U.N. mandate for foreign forces to be in Iraq, said Nassar al-Rubaie, the leader of the Sadrist bloc. It also calls for a timetable for the troop withdrawal and a freeze on the size of the foreign forces.

The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously in November to extend the U.S.-led forces' mandate until the end of 2007. The resolution, however, said the council "will terminate this mandate earlier if requested by the government of Iraq."