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Iraq official: 3 suicide bombers at large in Anbar after blast

  • Story Highlights
  • U.S. planes bombard al Qaeda in Iraq safe havens
  • Suicide bomber handed candy box with explosives to a relative, who was killed
  • Sheikh, recently released from U.S. custody, among the dead
  • U.S. military: Use of Iranian weapons in Iraq down dramatically
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- U.S. planes bombarded al Qaeda in Iraq safe havens on the southern outskirts of Baghdad on Sunday, hours after a suicide bomber carrying explosives in a candy box killed six people in Anbar province.

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Iraqi security officers inspect debris Saturday after a gunbattle during a Shiite commemoration in Basra.

An hour after the suicide attack, members of the Awakening Council arrested a woman wearing an explosives-laden belt after receiving intelligence indicating five suicide bombers had entered the area, an Interior Ministry official said.

They were still searching for three other suicide bombers, he added.

The suicide bomber handed the explosive-laden box to Sheikh Hadi at a celebration attended by members of the Anbar Awakening Council, who were celebrating his recent release from U.S. custody, the Interior Ministry official said.

Two guards also were killed, according to the official.

The suicide bomber was a relative of Hadi, the Interior Ministry official told CNN. The bomber's target was Sheikh Aeifan al-Issawi and other members of the Anbar Awakening Council, the official said. Al-Issawi was unhurt.

Hadi had been in U.S. custody for about five days, al-Issawi said. Al Qaeda in Iraq had planted a bomb near Hadi's house and made it appear that the sheikh was dealing with insurgents, said al-Issawi, the leading member of the Council.

Sunday's U.S. airstrike against al Qaeda in Iraq is part of a new countrywide push against insurgents, the U.S. military said.

The strike, in the Arab Jabour area, followed two others -- one last Wednesday and one on January 10 -- in the same region, the military said.

The three strikes used more than 80,000 pounds of bombs to hit a combined total of 64 targets, the military said in a written statement.

Intelligence, some from a group called Concerned Local Citizens, helped the military identify the targets, Brig. Gen. Jim Huggins told CNN. Concerned Local Citizens was started by the U.S. military to assist U.S. and Iraqi forces in security tasks, such as manning checkpoints.

A military official told CNN last week that the area targeted is a mostly agricultural area, six to nine miles (10 to 15 kilometers) south of Arab Jabour, and is one of the last insurgent "safe havens" in the area.

The purpose of operation Marne Thunderbolt is to "establish patrol bases in and amongst the Iraqi people in the southern Arab Jabour area, so then we can go about bringing better stability and better services into their area," Huggins said.

The Sunni-dominated province is where the U.S. military reports increased indigenous tribal support against al Qaeda in Iraq. However on Sunday, Rear Adm. Gregory Smith noted that al Qaeda has not entirely left the province.

Awakening councils, which are usually Sunni groups standing against al Qaeda in Iraq fighters, have been targeted in a spate of attacks in recent weeks.

In other violence across Iraq at least one Iraqi civilian was killed and three police officers were wounded when a roadside bomb exploded near an Iraqi police convoy in eastern Baghdad Sunday morning, according to an Iraqi Interior Ministry official.

Other developments:

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  • Two U.S. troops died in Iraq Saturday -- a soldier killed by a roadside bomb blast on the southern outskirts of Baghdad and a Marine killed during a combat operation in Anbar province, the U.S. military said. Since the Iraq war began in March 2003, 3,922 U.S. service members have been killed, 25 of them in January. Seven civilian contractors of the Pentagon also have died during the war.
  • There has been a dramatic drop in the use of Iranian weapons by Iraqi insurgents despite a recent spasm of roadside bombings, the U.S. military said. The statement is a clarification of remarks made by Rear Adm. Gregory Smith on Sunday. "What Admiral Smith was referring to was a drop in the use of Iranian weapons in Iraq, not a decrease in the number Iranian weapons coming into Iraq," a military spokesman told CNN.
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    CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.

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