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Iraqi, U.S. forces overrun rebel base, kill 85


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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- After a two-hour firefight, Iraqi forces and U.S. helicopters captured an insurgent base north of Baghdad, killing 85 rebels, U.S. and Iraqi military officials said Wednesday.

"A previous safe haven for planning attacks has been removed," a U.S. military official said of Tuesday's battle.

Although the Iraqi military said it killed 85 insurgents during the firefight, the U.S. military said the number of rebel dead was "undetermined."

Seven Iraqi police commandos with the Ministry of Interior died in the fighting and six were wounded, the U.S. military said.

The U.S. military said it had lost no American troops in the battle.

The base included between 80 and 120 rebels at the time of the attack, some of them non-Iraqis, a U.S. military officials said.

The insurgents evacuated their positions about two hours into the battle, the officials said.

After entering the camp, Iraqi commandos found non-Iraqi passports, training publications, propaganda documents, weapons and ammunition, the U.S. military said.

The U.S. military said the camp is at a remote location about 60 miles northwest of Baghdad, near Lake Tharthar, along the border of Salaheddin and Anbar provinces. But the Iraqi Interior Ministry said the camp was in Samarra, which is east of the lake.

Iraqi forces also seized 30 boats at the camp which presumably were used at the lake, the Iraqi Defense Ministry said.

The U.S. role in the battle was primarily to provide helicopter support, the U.S. military official said. The battle "is another indication of [the insurgents'] diminished capabilities," the official said.

"This in an indication that they have been forced from major population centers and forced to operate in more remote areas," he said.

The battle follows Sunday's ambush on a U.S. convoy south of Baghdad that the U.S. military said left 26 insurgents dead.

Jordan-Iraqi tensions easing

A diplomatic huff between Jordan and Iraq which prompted them to withdraw their envoys shows signs of subsiding.

The dispute concerned a Jordanian newspaper report that a family from Jordan celebrated a relative's role in a bombing that killed 127 people in the southern Iraqi city of Hilla last month.

That story generated angry demonstrations in Iraq and underscored concerns about the ability to stop foreign fighters from slipping into Iraq.

Citing security concerns, Jordan's King Abdullah II responded to news of the demonstrations by recalling his nation's ambassador.

The interim Iraq government then recalled its envoy from Jordan.

The king has since ordered Jordan's top envoy to Iraq to return to Baghdad. The status of Iraq's diplomat is unknown.

Tuesday, interim Iraqi Prime Minister's Ayad Allawi issued a statement calling for more investigation of the Hilla incident, and urging Jordan to investigate the reported celebrations.

Allawi also demanded an explanation from the family and the newspaper that published reports of their celebration.

The father of a Jordanian suspect has denied his son's involvement in the Hilla blast and said his son died in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

Allawi said Jordan's prime minister has contacted him "expressing his sorrow" and saying investigations are forthcoming.

Other developments

  • U.S. Army Secretary Francis Harvey on Wednesday said the Army is having trouble meeting its recruitment goals and it's encouraging parents to steer their children toward the Army. "There is a forecast that we will not meet the monthly goal" for March and April," Harvey said at his first Pentagon news conference as the Army's top civilian official. (Full story)
  • Harvey also said Iraq is having no problems recruiting soldiers, and Iraqis appear eager to serve. The United States has trained and equipped more than 145,000 security forces, he said. "The objective is to get somewhere around 300,000" soldiers and police officers, Harvey said.
  • Iraqi security forces thwarted an insurgent plot to disrupt a meeting of the interim National Assembly last week in Baghdad, a spokesman for Allawi's office said on Wednesday. "Iraqi security forces captured four terrorists before they could carry out direct attacks on the International Zone," the spokesman said. The heavily guarded area also is known as the Green Zone and contains Iraqi government offices, the U.S. Embassy and American military headquarters.
  • Allawi urged politicians on Tuesday, including the president of the interim National Assembly, Sheikh Dhary Al-Fayadh, to help "speed up" the new government's formation. On January 30, Iraqis elected a transitional National Assembly, which met for the first time last week. Members so far have failed to reach a deal on the government's composition. A major goal of the assembly will be to create a permanent constitution on which Iraqi citizens will vote.
  • Seven U.S. senators -- five Democrats and two Republicans -- visited Iraq on Tuesday to speak with Iraqi politicians and observe training for Iraqi security forces. Making the visit were: Robert Bennett, R-Utah; Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee; Harry Reid, D-Nevada; Richard Durbin, D-Illinois, Barbara Boxer, D-California; Patty Murray D-Washington; and Ken Salazar D-Colorado.
  • Three Iraqis suspected of launching a rocket strike on coalition forces were arrested in in the northern city of Kirkuk on Tuesday, the U.S. military said. Task Force Liberty soldiers conducted the nighttime raid and said they confiscated "rocket fuses and AK-47 assault weapons."
  • CNN's Aneesh Raman contributed to this report.


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