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U.S. forces kill 27 attackers in Iraq

Central Command: 'Organized group' tried to ambush tanks

U.S. soldiers on patrol interrogate a woman during Operation Peninsula Strike in Iraq.

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(CNN) -- An "organized group" of attackers ambushed a U.S. tank patrol Friday north of Baghdad, sparking a battle that killed at least 27 of the assailants, U.S. Central Command said.

The attackers fired rocket-propelled grenades at the 4th Infantry Division patrol in Balad, according to a Central Command statement. The tanks immediately returned fire, killing four attackers and forcing the rest to flee, the statement said.

Tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles, backed by Apache helicopters, pursued the attackers, killing 23, according to Central Command.

This week near Balad, U.S. forces conducted a wide-ranging mission -- dubbed Operation Peninsula Strike, capturing almost 400 suspected Iraqi fighters loyal to Saddam Hussein's former regime.

In a separate operation, U.S. troops were battling suspected Saddam loyalists at what U.S. military officials called a terrorist training camp west of Baghdad.

Pentagon officials said the camp was being used by extremist or "foreign" fighters who have come from outside Iraq to try to destabilize U.S. efforts in the country.

The assault began Wednesday with a coordinated airstrike, according to Central Command, and a firefight followed involving ground forces, including members of the 101st Airborne Division.

An Apache attack helicopter was shot down, apparently by hostile fire, during the mission, and an F-16 fighter plane crashed after suffering a mechanical failure, Central Command said.

The helicopter's two-man crew and the F-16's pilot were recovered safely, military officials said. A coalition soldier received minor wounds in the operation, officials said.

U.S. forces have been working to wipe out pockets of resistance blamed for attacks that have killed 35 U.S. troops since President Bush announced the end of major combat in Iraq on May 1, according to Pentagon officials. (Full story)

On Thursday, the 173rd Airborne Brigade apprehended what Central Command said were 74 suspected al Qaeda sympathizers after a raid near the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk. The U.S. forces staged the raid based on intelligence information about alleged anti-coalition elements in the area, according to a Central Command statement.

Also in northern Iraq, unknown assailants attacked a gas pipeline near Baiji, an official with Iraq's State Oil and Market Organization told CNN.

An attack helicopter on the move during Operation Peninsula Strike in Iraq.

The U.S. military Thursday reported two explosions on a pipeline about 12 miles (20 kilometers) apart, which sparked a fire. The U.S. military did not say if the explosions were the result of sabotage. It was unclear if the fires were burning Friday, or if the pipeline was functional.

The commander of U.S. ground forces in Iraq said Friday that the Iraqi fighters appear to have some limited coordination.

"I see no evidence that there is any national command and control with the activities going on now," said Lt. Gen. David McKiernan during a videoconference from Iraq to reporters at the Pentagon.

"I see it more decentralized regionally or locally, but there is the probability of financial trails that lead to other parts of Iraq, and there might be communications that go to other parts."

Other developments

• Iraqi officials said that the Sacred Vase of Warka -- a nearly 4-foot tall, carved white limestone votive bowl that is one of the country's most precious artifacts -- was returned Thursday to the National Museum in Baghdad. The vase was taken during the looting that followed the collapse of Saddam's government. (Full story)

• CIA Director George Tenet appointed former U.N. weapons inspector David Kay to advise the agency on how to find possible Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, CIA officials said. Kay, 63, will be based in Iraq. He will be in charge of "refining the overall approach for the search for Iraq's weapons of mass destruction," one official said. The Pentagon's new Iraq Survey Group -- about 1,400 experts from the United States, Britain and Australia -- will provide direct support to Kay, according to the CIA announcement.

• Another Iraqi on the U.S. most-wanted list of Iraqis has been captured by U.S. troops in Baghdad, a senior Pentagon official said. The official said Hussein al-Tikriti, the Iraqi Army Air Corps commander and No. 132 on the U.S. list, was captured May 26 during a search by Special Operations forces looking for illegal weapons. No other details were available.

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