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Sunni party tells U.S. to halt push against insurgents

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  • NEW: Eight U.S. troops killed in Iraq over two-day period
  • Vice president's party says U.S.-Iraqi operation is killing civilians
  • Number of Iraqi civilians killed each month declining
  • U.S.: Hezbollah operative helped plan Iraq attack that killed 5 Americans
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A major Sunni political party Monday demanded that the U.S. and Iraqi militaries halt a security operation aimed at rooting out insurgents in and around the Diyala province city of Baquba.

U.S. soldiers patrol a Baghdad street on Sunday.

The Islamic Iraqi Party of Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi said two-week-old Operation Arrowhead Ripper, an offensive that targets al Qaeda in Iraq, has destroyed more than 150 houses and killed "more than 350 residents whose bodies are still beneath" the rubble.

"The Islamic Iraqi Party is demanding the Iraqi government and the occupation forces to stop this massacre and to remember the need to distinguish between the militants and the innocent residents and to allow the rescue organizations to deliver the food and the medications in order to aid the injured and evacuate them," the party said in a written statement.

The party said Arrowhead Ripper has also contributed to interruptions in "basic services," including water, electricity and medical services.

The U.S. military, which did not immediately respond to a request for a comment about the Islamic Iraqi Party's demand, said last week that Arrowhead Ripper has killed at least 60 al Qaeda operatives and detained at least 74.

The military's strategy is to eradicate the insurgent presence outside Baghdad. The effort started after the completion earlier this month of what the administration calls the "surge" -- the U.S. military troop escalation.

Troops also were working on distributing rice, flour and water bottles to residents in and around Baquba.

The party's call for an end to the operation underscores tensions between Sunni Arab blocks and the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government and the United States.

Last week, several Sunni Arab members of the Iraqi Cabinet suspended their participation in the government. They objected to the way Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has handled a case against a Sunni politician who is wanted in connection with the murder of two sons of a parliamentary candidate.

Salam al-Zubaie, the Sunni deputy prime minister, four Cabinet ministers and the wanted politician -- Culture Minister Assad al-Hashimi, who is believed to be in hiding -- have withdrawn from the Iraqi Cabinet.

Dozens of Sunni lawmakers also boycotted last week's parliament session, demanding the reinstatement of former Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, an outspoken Sunni figure who was voted out of his position two weeks ago.

The boycott included 44 members of al-Mashhadani's Iraqi Accord Front and 11 members of the National Dialogue Front, another Sunni political bloc.

Much of the insurgency in Iraq is dominated by Sunnis, who held sway in the Iraqi government during the Saddam Hussein era. Much effort has been made to bring the Sunnis into Iraq's political process, dominated by Shiites -- who make up about 60 percent of the population -- and Kurds.

U.S. troops killed

Eight U.S. troops were killed in Iraq on Sunday and Monday, according to the U.S. military.

On Monday, a U.S. soldier with Task Force Lightning was killed by a blast near his vehicle in Salaheddin province, the U.S. military said.

And the military said Tuesday that two U.S. Marines died Sunday during combat operations in Anbar province, west of Baghdad.

Their deaths bring the American death toll in Iraq to 3,578. Seven civilian contractors to the U.S. military have also died since the 2003 invasion.

U.S. troops are mounting a major effort to pacify Baghdad and its surrounding provinces, with nearly 30,000 additional soldiers and Marines dispatched to the country as part of the effort.

American commanders say the push is bearing fruit despite U.S. death tolls of 100 or more for the past three months. The number of Iraqi civilians killed in June dropped to 1,227, down from 1,949 in May; 1,501 in April; and 1,872 in March, an Iraqi Interior Ministry official said Saturday.

Iraqi security forces on Sunday recovered the bodies of 14 people in at least six different locations, all of them apparently victims of sectarian violence, officials said Monday.

All of the victims had been shot, most of them repeatedly, an official with the Iraqi Interior Ministry said Monday.

U.S.: Hezbollah agent helped plan attack

A top special operations officer from Lebanon's Iranian-backed militia Hezbollah has been captured in Iraq, where U.S. officials say he played a key role in a January attack that killed five Americans.

Ali Mussa Daqduq, an explosives expert, was captured in March in the southern city of Basra, where he was helping train and lead Shiite militias fighting coalition troops, U.S. intelligence officials said.

Daqduq pretended to be deaf and mute when captured, and his identity was not known for weeks, the officials said. But once his identity was learned, the officials said, he began to talk, and they now believe he played a crucial role in the January 20 attack in Karbala that killed five Americans. Full story

10 suspected terrorists arrested

U.S.-led coalition forces detained 10 suspected terrorists in raids north of Baghdad early Monday, a U.S. military statement said.

In Mosul, coalition forces captured "an alleged terrorist operative sent by al Qaeda leaders in Syria to settle leadership disputes within the network," the military said. Five other suspected terrorists were also detained in the north city.

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"Al Qaeda's network in Mosul is showing signs of great stress, and we will continue to target the leaders and operatives there to ensure a safe future for the people of Iraq," said Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, a U.S. military spokesman.

West of Taji, coalition forces detained four people suspected of selling rockets and protective armored vest to al Qaeda in Iraq operatives. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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