Toll rises in central Iraqi gun battle

Twenty-three Iraqis, including two policemen, have been killed during clashes between Iraqi security forces and fighters south of Baghdad, while four Egyptian workers have been abducted.

    US officials hope Iraqis will take greater control of security soon

    The bloodshed came overnight on Sunday in bu-Mustafa village north of Hilla, 30km south of Baghdad, police sources told Aljazeera.


    Five Iraqi policemen were injured during the clashes which erupted around 10.30pm (1930 GMT) when security forces, attempting to arrest suspects in the village, were ambushed, the sources added.


    Eighteen Iraqis were arrested.


    Iraqi journalist Talib al-Janabi told Aljazeera the forces said the suspects were wanted for blowing up polling centres in the area.


    The Iraqi policemen who died in the clashes came from the same village as the fighters and were showing their solidarity with them.


    Soldier killed


    A US soldier was also killed and two others wounded on Sunday in a roadside bomb attack north of Baghdad, the US military said in a statement on Monday.


    A US soldier was killed in a road-
    side bomb attack near Baghdad

    "One Task Force Baghdad Soldier was killed and two others injured by an improvised explosive device north of the Iraqi capital," the statement said.


    "The two wounded soldiers were evacuated to a military medical treatment facility," it said.


    No further details were released.

    Earlier on Sunday, two Iraqi guardsmen were killed and three more injured in an ambush in the same area.

    Rocket attacks

    Two rockets also exploded near Baghdad International Airport and a third slammed into an Iraqi National Guard building in a western suburb. No casualties were reported.

    The attacks were the latest sign that anti-US fighters were stepping up attacks against Iraq's fledgling security forces.

    They raise new concerns about security following a brief downturn in violence after the 30 January elections. A final tally of the vote is expected by Thursday.

    Egyptians seized

    Also on Sunday, four Egyptians working for a mobile phone company were seized when their vehicle was stopped by armed men while on the way to work in western Baghdad, Iraqi and Egyptian officials said.

    The four Egyptians were seized near the Mansur district of western Baghdad.

    Four Egyptian employees of the
    mobile firm Iraqna were taken

    They worked for Iraqna, a subsidiary of the Egyptian firm Orascom Telecommunications, which operates the mobile phone network in Baghdad and central Iraq.

    Meanwhile, APTN obtained a videotape from a group calling itself the Islamic Movement of Iraqi Mujahidin which appeared to show a US Humvee being hit by a blast.

    Information on the tape said the vehicle was travelling in the Husaiba al-Sharqiya district 5km out of Ramadi and 100km west of Baghdad.

    US authorities have not commented on the claim.

    In a separate attack in Karbala, a car bomber struck a US convoy south of the city, destroying a US vehicle.

    The US military had no information on the blast, and there was no word on casualties.

    Witnesses said no one was killed or injured.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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