MOSUL, Iraq (Reuters) - Nine Iraqi soldiers were killed on Wednesday when a roadside bomb destroyed a bus in the volatile north and at least seven people were killed in a U.S.-Iraqi raid in western Iraq, security sources said.
The soldiers killed were off duty and on their way to spend leisure time at home, said a police source in Mosul, considered al Qaeda’s last urban stronghold in Iraq, and an army source in the joint coordination office of Nineveh province.
Five soldiers and a bus driver were wounded in the blast in a village 30 km (20 miles) west of Mosul, the sources said.
Insurgents have launched steady attacks on Iraqi police and troops in recent weeks. The U.S. military formally ended combat operations in August, 7-1/2 years after the invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein.
In western Anbar province, an overnight raid by security forces in the Hay Jubail district of Falluja led to a gun battle in which at least seven people died and four others were wounded, local security sources said.
The raid was planned and led by Iraqi forces, acting on an Iraqi warrant, and included U.S. advisers, U.S. military spokesman Major Rob Phillips said.
“They were searching for a suspected AQI (al Qaeda in Iraq) leader we believe was responsible for high-profile attacks in the area and had close ties to other leaders in the AQI terrorist organization,” Phillips said.
He said gunmen opened fire on Iraqi forces from multiple locations when they arrived at the house and six people died in the exchange of fire that followed.
Anbar Governor Qassim Mohammed condemned the raid.
“It is against the law and against the rights of civilians,” he said.
One of the dead was a former Iraqi army colonel, a local police commander said.
A person whose home is in the neighborhood said residents opened fire on the troops because they thought they were under attack, and eight people were killed in the ensuing gun battle.
But another neighbor, Juma Yasin, said no one from the neighbourhood fired shots.
“We were sleeping (outside) when suddenly we heard very heavy shooting. We immediately entered our houses and when it was finished we went out and found those people killed,” he said. “There was no resistance at all.”
Falluja was the scene of some of the fiercest fighting after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. The vast desert province of Anbar is Iraq’s Sunni heartland and was a haven for al Qaeda insurgents.
Overall violence has fallen sharply over the past three years but a stubborn Sunni Islamist insurgency continues to carry out regular attacks. Iraqi forces took the lead entirely on August 31 in the fight against insurgents when the U.S. military formally ended combat operations in Iraq.
Reporting by Jamal al-Badrani in Mosul and Fadhel al-Badrani in Falluja, Writing by Jim Loney and Michael Christie