50 Militants Reported Killed in Iraq

The Associated Press
Tuesday, January 9, 2007; 1:39 PM

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- U.S. and Iraqi soldiers, backed by American warplanes, battled suspected insurgents for hours Tuesday on a central Baghdad street that has been an insurgent hot spot for years, and 50 militants were killed, the Defense Ministry said. Elsewhere, a cargo plane carrying Turkish construction workers crashed while landing at a foggy airstrip in Balad, killing 34 people, Turkish and Iraqi officials said. An official at the Turkish Embassy in Baghdad said one person, a Turk, had survived but was severely injured.

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said the Iraqi leadership was open to an increase in U.S. troops, which President Bush was expected to announce on Wednesday night in a major policy speech outlining changes in U.S. strategy. He was expected to announce an increase of up to 20,000 additional U.S. troops.

"The goal is to protect Baghdad and other areas. If this is going to be achieved by an increase in friendly coalition forces, we have no objection and we support this," al-Dabbagh told reporters.

U.S. helicopters circled above the Haifa Street area where the fighting took place, and witnesses said they had seen the aircraft firing into the combat zone. Explosions rang out across the area, just north of the heavily fortified Green Zone.

Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Shaker, a ministry spokesman, said 21 militants were captured, including seven foreign Arabs _ including three Syrians _ and one Sudanese.

Police said the clashes began when gunmen attacked Iraqi army checkpoints, and that Iraqi soldiers called for U.S. military help.

Al-Dabbagh said Iraqi forces had decided to wipe out "terrorist hide-outs" in the area once and for all. "God willing, Haifa Street will never threaten the Iraqi people again," he said.

Al-Dabbagh also said followers of Saddam Hussein were to blame for the violence.

"This would never have happened were it not for some groups who provided safe havens for these terrorists. And as everyone knows, the former Baathists provided safe haven and logistics for them to destabilize Iraq," he said.

Haifa Street has long been Sunni insurgent territory and housed many senior Baath Party members and officials during Saddam's rule.

The Defense Ministry issued a statement saying 11 people were arrested in the Haifa Street battle, including seven Syrians. But the U.S. military said only three people had been arrested.

A U.S. military spokesman said American and Iraqi forces launched raids to capture multiple targets, disrupt insurgent activity and restore Iraqi Security Forces control of North Haifa Street.

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