BAGHDAD, Iraq – American and Iraqi troops battled al Qaeda-linked insurgents holed up in an upscale Baghdad neighborhood Thursday, killing at least five militants apparently waiting to carry out suicide bomb attacks.
Word emerged that a senior al Qaeda leader was killed in a U.S. airstrike near Syria’s border. And in a devastating escalation in insurgent attacks in the capital, a string of car bombings that began late Wednesday continued Thursday morning with four more blasts that killed at least 15 people and wounded 28.
The force of the blasts – timed for when the capital’s streets are most crowded – blew off store shutters, and the surrounding sidewalks were littered with debris, including charred vegetables and fruit.
All told, Thursday’s violence across Iraq left at least 19 civilians killed and 37 wounded.
The insurgents were associated with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, head of al Qaeda in Iraq and the most notorious terrorist in Iraq, the military said.
The U.S. military said six insurgents were killed. Al Qaeda in Iraq said only five of its men – four foreign Arabs and one Iraqi – were in the house at the time of the raid. They were there waiting for “their turn to leave the world,” militant jargon for taking part in suicide bombings.
It said the five men “used all kinds of weapons” to keep the attackers at bay, forcing them to retreat with huge losses. “The crusaders, as usual when they lose, called for the warplanes which bombed the house and the five joined the martyrs,” it said in a statement posted Thursday night on a militant Internet site. Its authenticity could not be independently verified.