An Iraqi police commander said Sunday that U.S. and Iraqi officials were certain that seven men who fought to the death in a house in northern Iraq were members of al Qaeda but were still trying to determine whether one of them was Abu Musab Zarqawi, the Jordanian insurgent leader.
U.S. and Iraqi forces remained deployed around the site of the three-hour gunfight Saturday at a house in the city of Mosul, north of Baghdad. Children stayed home from class on Sunday, a school day in the Islamic world, and other residents kept off the streets, presumably fearing that more fighting might result from the heavy military presence in the city.
Joint forces backed by U.S. military helicopters had surrounded the house after receiving a tip that led them to believe that Zarqawi might be inside, the governor of Nineveh province, Duraid Kashmoula, said Saturday.
As Iraqi soldiers and U.S. Special Forces advisers went into the building, grenades rained down from the roof, wounding 11 of them, according to a U.S. Army officer near where the raid occurred. Multiple explosions collapsed the building, and two American Special Forces troops were killed, he said.
Kashmoula said four of the fighters inside died while resisting the assault, and three others blew themselves up with explosives rather than be captured. A woman was also found inside with the words "suicide bomber" marked on her chest, officials said. Brig. Gen. Said Ahmed Jubouri, a police commander in Mosul, said the force of the suicide blasts destroyed the house.
Zarqawi is the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, a group allied with the larger al Qaeda organization and that is believed responsible for many suicide attacks in Iraq.
Kashmoula said U.S. officials retrieved the remains and were investigating whether Zarqawi was among the dead.
U.S. military officials believe it is possible that Zarqawi was killed in the raid but will not know with certainty until DNA tests are run, said a U.S. military intelligence official involved in Iraqi issues.
There is a "30 percent" chance that one of the bodies is Zarqawi's, he said. But he warned: "We've had dry holes before."
Over the past month, the official said, there has been a series of raids following a surge in tips from Iraqis unhappy with Zarqawi and his operation. These tend to be traditional Iraqi leaders -- sheiks and imams -- upset with the organization, especially its recent execution of Sunni Arabs in Ramadi, the provincial capital of Anbar. "Their feeling is that al Qaeda in Iraq has overstepped its bounds," he said.
Meanwhile, a U.S. soldier was killed by small-arms fire Sunday near the capital. The soldier was assigned to the Army's Task Force Baghdad. A Marine, assigned to Regimental Combat Team 8, 2nd Marine Division, died of wounds suffered the day before in Karmah, near a village outside Fallujah, the military reported.
In the southern city of Basra, a roadside bomb killed a British soldier, the British Ministry of Defense said.
Ricks reported from Washington. Special correspondent Dlovan Brwari in Mosul contributed to this report.