Air-battle in Baghdad leaves 50 insurgents left dead

BAGHDAD, Iraq – U.S. jets screamed low over the capital and helicopter gunships swooped in to pound a central Baghdad battleground Tuesday, supporting Iraqi and American troops in a daylong fight that officials said killed 50 insurgents in a militant Sunni Arab stronghold.

The battle raged on Haifa Street about 1 1/2 miles north of the heavily fortified Green Zone, home to the U.S. Embassy and other facilities, on the eve of President Bush’s expected announcement that he would send 20,000 more soldiers to Iraq despite growing opposition on Capitol Hill.

It was the second major confrontation on Haifa Street in the four days since Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced a new drive to rid Baghdad of sectarian fighters.

The U.S. military said about 1,000 Iraqi and U.S. soldiers carried out “targeted raids to capture multiple targets, disrupt insurgent activity and restore Iraqi Security Forces control of North Haifa Street.”

“This area has been subject to insurgent activity which has repeatedly disrupted Iraqi Security Force operations in central Baghdad,” said a statement quoting Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl, spokesman for Multi-National Division Baghdad.

He said the U.S. jets buzzing the city did not conduct any airstrikes, but “attack helicopters were used to engage targets in support of the ground forces.”

Bleichwehl said no American or Iraqi soldiers were killed. He did not address the number of militants killed, while the Iraqi Defense Ministry reported 50 deaths among insurgents.

Elsewhere on Tuesday, Iraqi police reported finding 52 bodies dumped in three cities, 41 of them in Baghdad, all apparent victims of sectarian reprisal killings.

At a Saturday ceremony marking the 85th anniversary of the founding of the Iraqi army, al-Maliki again vowed to strike at the Shiite Muslim and Sunni Arab extremists behind the sectarian warfare that has bloodied the country over the past year.

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