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At least 17 killed as U.S., Iraqi forces battle Shiite militia

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: U.S. says at least 17 "insurgents" killed in fighting but no civilians in area
  • Hospital official: Two women among dead; 25 injured include women, children
  • Battle began when U.S., Iraqi forces raided militia member's home, official says
  • One U.S. soldier killed in Diyala province on Thursday, military reports
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- At least 17 people were killed Friday when U.S. and Iraqi forces battled "rogue" Shiite militia members in Karbala after a raid, the U.S. military said.

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An Iraqi girl stands beside a wall damaged by fighting Friday in Karbala, Iraq.

A hospital official said earlier that the dead included two women and that 25 people were wounded in the fighting, including women and children.

But the U.S. military said there were no civilians in the area of the fighting.

The military said troops conducted a raid "without incident" and detained a person it called "a high-level rogue" militia leader -- a commander of the Mehdi Army in western Karbala. The Mehdi Army is the militia of anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

But trouble started when attackers fired small arms, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades at departing U.S. and Iraqi troops, the military said.

The U.S. and Iraqi forces killed five attackers in the firefight that followed, the military said. A helicopter that was called in to help also came under fire, it said.

"U.S. Special Forces called in precision aerial fires that resulted in approximately a dozen insurgents killed. No Iraqi civilians were present in the area while the strike was performed," the military said.

The high-value detainee is a cell leader who is alleged to have commanded attacks against U.S.-led coalition forces and assassinated Iraqis, the military said. "His cell is also credited with the assassinations of two Iraqi government officials," said the military, which did not release the man's identity.

Two other "suspicious" people were detained during the raid, a statement said.

Salim Kadhim, a spokesman for the Hussein general hospital in Karbala, said the pre-dawn raid occurred in Karbala's southern Askari neighborhood, a Mehdi Army stronghold in the predominantly Shiite city. Video Watch how Iraqis cope with dangers of everyday life »

Also Friday, the U.S. military reported the death of another U.S. soldier in Iraq's volatile Diyala province, which has emerged as a major front in the U.S.-led war against the insurgency.

The military said an explosion near the soldier's vehicle killed him Thursday. He was part of an operation going after militants.

Five U.S. troops were killed Tuesday in Diyala. Three Marines and a sailor died in combat in the province and a soldier died in Baquba of injuries from a bombing, the military said. The number of U.S. military deaths in the war is 3,646, including seven civilian employees of the Defense Department. The death toll this month stands at 67.

Diyala province is a a religiously and ethnically mixed region that stretches north and east of Baghdad to the Iranian border. It is the site of the U.S. military's Operation Arrowhead Ripper, a campaign begun last month to fight insurgents.

Diyala's importance was underscored Thursday when Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki visited the province, his first trip there since taking office last year, the U.S. military said.

"The prime minister's visit is vital, not only for the government and security officials, but for the people of Diyala to see that their effort in achieving peace and fighting against terrorist groups does not go unnoticed," said Col. David W. Sutherland, commander of coalition forces in Diyala.

Al-Maliki met with Diyala's governor, provincial leadership, key tribal leaders, Diyala's Iraqi security force leadership and senior coalition officers during a meeting at the Baquba government center, the military said.

Since the completion last month of the U.S. troop buildup known as the "surge," U.S. and Iraqi forces have launched operations in dangerous "belts" around Baghdad -- in Diyala, in sprawling Anbar province west of the capital, and in areas in and near southern Baghdad.

While the Arrowhead Ripper offensive is focused on insurgents linked to the largely Sunni al Qaeda in Iraq, the military also is going after Shiite militias in the province.

The military reported that coalition forces on Friday captured four suspected terrorists affiliated with an Iranian network in the village of Qasarin.

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The detainees "are suspected of facilitating the transport of weapons and personnel from Iran into Iraq," the military said.

"The captured terrorists are also believed to have facilitated the flow of deadly explosively formed projectiles into Iraq from Iran to be used against coalition forces." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.

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