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U.S., Iraqi troops kill 33 insurgents

Thirty three Sunni insurgents, holding back the water supply to the Shiite town of Khalis, were killed by hundreds of U.S. and Iraqi forces backed by helicopters and jet fighters.

At least five people were killed in gunfire as more than a million Shiite pilgrims jammed the holy city of Karbala. The violence apparently erupted when the Shiite faithful tried to push past frustratingly slow security checkpoints near the Imam al-Hussein mosque.

A member of the city council said the center of town was in chaos with pilgrims running in all directions to escape the gunfire. No one, he said, was sure who was doing the shooting. He said a rocket-propelled grenade exploded near the shrine.

"We don't know what's going on," said the councilman, who wouldn't allow use of his name for security reasons. "All we know is the huge numbers of pilgrims was too much for the checkpoints to handle and now there is shooting."

Four people - two men and two women - were killed in a similar melee near the mosque Monday night. Associated Press Television News pictures from the city, 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of Baghdad, showed pilgrims running helter-skelter as gunfire, apparently police shooting into the air, rang out through the streets near the mosque.

The assault north of Baghdad began before dawn on Monday when a joint force was landed by helicopter in the village of Gubbiya, 15 kilometers (10 miles) east of Khalis. The assault force killed 13 fighters and attack aircraft killed 20 others, the military said. The area is known to be controlled by al-Qaida in Iraq. Khalis, 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of Baghdad, has been the scene of repeated Sunni insurgent bombings and mortar attacks.

"The objective of the mission was to open the spillway, which regulates water flow to the town of Khalis, restoring the essential service of water," the statement said.

The assault uncovered three weapons caches, led to the capture of three men and "water is currently flowing unimpeded to Khalis," the military said. The statement did not say if any U.S. or Iraqi soldiers were killed or wounded.

A Bradley Fighting Vehicle was seen engulfed in flames at the side of the road leading to Baghdad Airport Tuesday morning, but there was no immediate report about the incident from the military. It appeared to have been hit by a huge explosion. The stretch of highway is one of the most heavily guarded in Iraq.

In Fallujah, the Sunni city 65 kilometers (40 miles) west of Baghdad, mourners buried 11 victims of a mosque suicide bombing Monday night. Ten people were wounded in the attack which police said targeted an anti-al-Qaida Sunni sheik who had just returned from Syria.

Meanwhile, suspected Sunni gunmen kept up attacks on pilgrims traveling to and from Karbala for the Shabaniyah festival, which marks the birth of Mohammed al-Mahdi, the 12th and last Shiite imam who disappeared in the 9th century. Devout Shiites believe he will return to Earth to restore peace and harmony.

A boy was killed and his father was wounded by drive-by shooters who opened fire on their car as they drove home from Karbala. In a separate incident gunmen opened fire randomly on vehicles returning to Baghdad, wounding two pilgrims in a small bus. And a sniper opened fire on pilgrims in southern Baghdad, wounding four. All the incidents were reported by local police who refused to give their names because they were not authorized to release the information.

Sunni politicians, meanwhile, applauded goals set down in an agreement hammered out by the country's top leaders under intense American pressure but expressed doubt that the U.S.-backed prime minister would actually see them through.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and four other senior leaders declared Sunday they had reached a consensus on a number of issues, including freeing detainees held without charge, easing the ban on former Saddam Hussein supporters in government posts, regulating the oil industry and holding provincial elections.

No details were released, and most measures require parliamentary approval.

But in a step toward implementing the deal, U.S. and Iraqi officials announced Monday that coalition forces would increase the number of detainees released during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which begins next month.

"Releases will start as early as this week and continue through the end of Ramadan," the U.S. command said in a statement. It did not say how many would be freed.

U.S. President George W. Bush hailed the agreement, saying it "begins to establish new power-sharing agreements."

"These leaders ... recognize the true and meaningful reconciliation that needs to take place," Bush said in a brief statement Monday upon arrival in Albuquerque, New Mexico. "They recognize this is a process. Yesterday's agreement reflects their commitment to work together for the benefit of all Iraqis to further the process."

However, the deal did not convince the main Sunni Arab political bloc to take back the government posts they abandoned this month over differences with al-Maliki, a Shiite.

The Sunni walkout has paralyzed the government ahead of a crucial report to Congress by Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Gen. David Petraeus, which will likely determine the fate of the troubled U.S. military mission in Iraq.

Some key Sunni figures on Monday dismissed the agreement as a stalling tactic by al-Maliki to ease pressure from Washington.

"Our position is that this meeting represents a new phase of procrastination and does not honestly aim at solving the problems quickly," said Khalaf al-Ilyan, a leader of the Sunni bloc, the Iraqi Accordance Front. "I think that no real or practical solution will come out of this."

Another Front leader, Adnan al-Dulaimi, said the accord included "good decisions that would serve the whole Iraqi people."

"But we doubt that they will be implemented," he said. "All our experience with al-Maliki indicates that this is another new set of delaying measures. They give you a glimmer of hope, but at the end of the day you get nothing but promises."

With opposition to the war mounting in the United States, American diplomats have been pressing for the Iraqis to demonstrate political progress ahead of the Sept. 15 report to Congress.

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