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Iraq Transition

Violence rages in Iraq hotspots

Planning continues for October constitution vote

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Violence in several Iraqi hotspots Monday claimed more coalition and insurgent deaths in pitched battles and ambushes up and down the war-torn country.

U.S. forces killed 11 insurgents near Balad in response to a mortar strike, and U.S. and Iraqi forces have killed 40 to 50 rebels so far in an operation in northeastern Tal Afar that began last week, military sources said.

Gunmen killed two police officers at a checkpoint near the Interior Ministry in Baghdad, and a roadside bomb killed two British soldiers near Basra in southeastern Iraq, authorities said.

The violence took place as Iraq continued planning for next month's constitutional referendum.

An election official on Monday told CNN that the election process would resemble the one in January, with voters making their choice with ink-stained finger swipes -- a symbol of last winter's historic poll.

Lawmakers are debating the constitution approved last week by the special committee that wrote the document. Sunni Arabs dislike some aspects of the document, which has support from the Shiite Arabs and Kurds in the government.

The violence in Iraq was reported from the far north in Tal Afar, the restive and predominantly Turkmen city in Nineveh province in northern Iraq, to near Basra in southern Iraq.

A military officer on Monday told CNN that 40 to 50 suspected insurgents had been killed in Tal Afar since U.S. and Iraqi forces launched a major joint operation on Friday.

The military has constructed a camp where they are screening citizens to identify insurgents. The citizens are provided with medical care, given food and water, and sent on their way.

The latest developments were part of Operation Restoring Rights, which has been under way since mid-July in Nineveh province with about 12,000 troops altogether -- about 4,000 coalition forces and roughly 8,000 Iraqi army and police forces.

A contingent of about 5,000 of the 12,000 troops moved into Tal Afar last week in an effort to drive out insurgents and restore the rights of the city's residents ahead of the all-important referendum in October, in which Iraqis will vote on the proposed constitution.

Coalition and Iraqi forces have been chipping away at the insurgency since last year at this time, when it controlled 90 percent of the city.

By July, the control has been sliced to about 50 percent, the U.S. military said.

Khasro Goran, the deputy governor of Nineveh province, told CNN that the current Tal Afar offensive was not a Falluja-like operation. He said most people in the city did not support intimidating the local population.

"The whole city is not under the control of the insurgents, its only some pockets. There have been many peaceful efforts to control Tal Afar since 2004. But it was all ink on paper. So yes, we needed military action."

In one incident Sunday, seven insurgents firing from a mosque were killed in fighting Iraqi and coalition troops.

In Balad, just north of Baghdad, U.S. soldiers killed 11 insurgents on Monday in response to a mortar attack on a coalition base near Balad, the U.S. military said.

Task Force Liberty soldiers also detained six people in the attack. Four of those detained had been wounded.

Emergency police said the Baghdad incident occurred around 6 a.m. local time (10 p.m. Sunday ET) when gunmen in four cars opened fire at a highway checkpoint near the Interior Ministry building. The assailants then fled.

The British Defense Ministry said a roadside bombing in Zubeir near Basra killed two British soldiers in an incident that occurred at 11 a.m. (3 a.m. ET). Zubeir is a Sunni Arab town in the south -- which is largely Shiite Arab. This brings the number of British military deaths in the war in Iraq to 95.

U.S.-led forces have launched raids and operations against militants in northern Iraq, and the sides have engaged in firefights.

Other recent incidents

Reports were issued Monday about other recent incidents.

-- The Marines said that attacks against coalition and Iraqi forces and the civilian infrastructure in the western town of Hit on Sunday were carried out by al Qaeda in Iraq. There were two suicide bombings, a firefight and a vehicle car bombing.

"Three insurgents and one Iraqi soldier were reported killed in Sunday's attacks. Marines could not confirm the number of civilian casualties caused by the blasts," the Marines said.

In early July, Iraqi Security Forces and Marines from Regimental Combat Team-2 conducted Operation Sword, one of several anti-insurgent pushes in the western part of the country.

-- The Pentagon said that an American soldier died on Friday in Baghdad when his Bradley Fighting Vehicle was struck by an explosive. That brings the number of U.S. military fatalities in the war to 1,887.

-- The U.S. military reported that a raid in Hilla last week netted an insurgent suspect -- Ayad Adnan Away Samir, called "a key terrorist facilitator in the Falluja area."

The military said he was a "senior aide" to "Sheikh Abdullah Al Janabi, the Emir of the Shura Council in Falluja.

From Producers Kianne Sadeq, Arwa Damon, Mohammed Tawfeeq and Enes Dulami

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