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U.S.: Al-Zarqawi steps up attacks on Iraqi civilians

A U.S. soldier carries weapons seized Thursday after a battle with insurgents north of Baghdad.

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Al Qaeda in Iraq is increasingly attacking civilians, a U.S. military spokesman said Thursday, blaming terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi for inciting violence between Sunnis and Shiites in Baghdad.

Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch said that attacks against civilians in the past 2 1/2 months have increased 80 percent since November.

"This is what [al-Zarqawi is] telling his people that we have to do -- 'We have to drive a wedge between the Shia population and the Sunni population inside of Baghdad.' "

The general said that the group is targeting Shiites, who make up 60 percent of the Iraqi population but only came to power after Saddam Hussein's ouster. Sunnis controlled the country under Hussein's reign.

The Baghdad morgue reported that 1,091 people were killed in the city's daily violence in April, the Iraqi president's office said Wednesday.

The Jordanian-born Al-Zarqawi is trying to "move the Shias from mixed neighborhoods" and incite sectarian killings, Lynch said.

The U.S. military based its assessment on documents found in an April 16 raid in Yusufiya, south of Baghdad.

The troops also discovered the video of al-Zarqawi that the U.S. military released last week. (Full story)

"We continue to work the Iraqi security forces to increase patrols," Lynch said. "The fact that there are 32,000 patrols in the month of April in Baghdad shows you that there's more presence on the street in security forces."

He said he expected the violence to decrease if al-Zarqawi is captured or killed.

Two insurgent leaders were "taken out this past week," Lynch said. One was al Qaeda in Iraq's Abu Abd al-Rahman, who smuggled weapons from Syria and Lebanon.

Lynch said al-Rahman was expecting shoulder-fired missiles and an armored vehicle when he was captured.

A leader of the Ansar al-Sunna terrorist network also was killed in a recent U.S.-led coalition operation, according to Lynch. Ali Wali was a chemical and explosives expert for the group, loosely aligned with al Qaeda in Iraq.

Battle with insurgents

American and Iraqi soldiers battled dozens of insurgents dressed in Iraqi army uniforms Thursday near Baquba, north of Baghdad, a U.S. military source said.

The military received a tip about the insurgents' presence in Arab Jubar, a village 12 miles (20 kilometers) south of Baquba. Baquba, the capital of Diyala province, has been a flash point for insurgent activity.

A man who identified himself as a village leader reported seeing Iraqi army troops conducting a raid and detaining residents, the military said.

U.S. and Iraqi forces went to investigate, and they found insurgents wearing Iraqi army uniforms and riding in trucks and sport utility vehicles painted in camouflage to look like Iraqi military vehicles, according to the military.

Some insurgents escaped in a small truck, and others were killed or captured. There were conflicting reports as to how many insurgents died. It also was unclear how many were detained.

Video from the battle's aftermath showed several blindfolded suspects still dressed as Iraqi soldiers as well as three white Nissan pickups and a white Toyota Land Cruiser SUV with amateur khaki paint jobs.

Posing as Iraqi security forces is a tactic commonly used by insurgents, who sometimes establish fake checkpoints to ambush their targets.

Others have used their disguises to stage fake raids and kidnap civilians.

Three U.S. troops killed in blasts

Roadside bombs killed three U.S. soldiers Thursday in separate incidents southwest of Baghdad, the U.S. military said.

Two soldiers died around midmorning when a bomb hit their vehicle while they were on patrol, the military said. Earlier, another soldier was killed while also on patrol.

Also, a U.S. soldier from the Task Force Band of Brothers died Tuesday from noncombat-related wounds near the northern city of Mosul, the military said Thursday. An investigation into the cause of the soldier's death is under way.

Since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, 2,429 U.S. military troops and civilians have died in the Iraq war.

Other developments

  • Five garbage collectors were killed and another wounded Thursday when a roadside bomb exploded in Baghdad's upscale Mansour neighborhood, Iraqi emergency police said. Also in Mansour, gunmen killed an attorney with the Karkh Court's civil investigation unit. Siras Mohammed was gunned down as he was driving his car near the courthouse, police said.
  • At the 10th Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad, minutes or even seconds can mean life or death for gravely wounded soldiers. "It's life and death, every day," says one of the hospital's doctors. (Full story)
  • CNN's Arwa Damon, Jennifer Deaton and Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.

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