In Baghdad, a bomb ripped through a minibus carrying passengers home to their Shia neighbourhood, killing four, and police found 10 bodies dumped in Baghdad and elsewhere, the apparent victims of sectarian killings.

The violence came as Iraq's Shia, Sunni and Kurdish politicians haggled over forming a new government.

Tariq al-Hashimi, the new Sunni vice-president, made a show of unity with his Kurdish and Shia colleagues in the government, calling for the insurgency to be put down by force.

Al-Hashimi shrugged off a videotape by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in which the al-Qaida in Iraq leader tried to rally Sunni Arabs to fight the new government and denounced Sunnis who cooperate with it as "agents" of the Americans.

"I say, yes, we're agents. We're agents for Islam, for the oppressed. We have to defend the future of our people," al-Hashimi said at a news conference with Jalal Talabani, the president, and Adil Abdul-Mahdi, his fellow vice-president.

Talabani is a Kurd while Mahdi is a Shia.

Talabani (L) speaks to the media
with Abdul-Mahdi and al-Hashimi 

"We believe that Iraq's interest now is to normalise the situation and maintain stability, as well as impose security and peace by force," al-Hashimi said.

Air raid

US-led forces hit the suspected safehouse on Tuesday in Youssifiyah, near where a US Apache helicopter crashed on April 1.

The US command said the helicopter was thought to have been shot down.The Mujahedeen Shura Council, purportedly a new umbrella organisation that includes al-Qaeda in Iraq and smaller insurgent groups, had claimed responsibility for the attack.

The US military did not say whether the suspected militants killed in the raid were thought to have been involved in the helicopter crash.

Iraqi soldiers check vehicles at a
checkpoint in central Baghdad

According to the US statement, intelligence led coalition forces to the safehouse, and when they reached it, they came under direct fire.

The soldiers fought back with the support of a helicopter and jets, killing five men outside the safe house, including one armed with a shoulder-fired rocket, and destroying the building, the US military statement said.

A search of the wreckage found the bodies of seven armed men and an unidentified woman, the military said.

The troops found suicide notes on one of the men, explosive vests used by suicide bombers, hand grenades and ammunition, the statement said.

Minibus bombing

In Baghdad, a bomb exploded aboard a minibus on Wednesday, killing four Iraqi passengers and wounding two, police said. The bomb, hidden in a shopping bag, exploded as the minibus was driving from the centre of the capital to a Shia neighbourhood, police Major Mahir Hamad said.

Such privately owned minibuses are frequently used as public transport in the capital.

The bodies of four Iraqis who had been kidnapped and killed were found in Baghdad, and six bodies were discovered in Karbala, 80km (50 miles) south of the capital, police said. Each one of the Karbala victims had been shot in the right eye, said police.

In southwest Baghdad, police received information that two men were traveling in the area with explosives hidden beneath their clothes, said police Captain Jamil Hussein. After a brief gunbattle, the explosives detonated, killing both men, Hussein said.