BAGHDAD, Nov 25 (Reuters) - Coalition forces have killed 10 al Qaeda suspects in Iraq during operations against senior leaders of the Sunni Islamist militant group and their associates, the U.S. military said on Sunday.
The forces detained eight other suspects during the coordinated operations on Saturday in the city of Samarra, 100 km (62 miles) north of Baghdad, it said in a statement.
Among the dead was a wanted suspect believed to be linked to a mass prison break in the northern city of Mosul in March, when dozens of gunmen freed up to 140 prisoners, the statement added. That incident was one of the biggest prison breaks since the U.S.-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein in 2003.
"Reports indicate that the wanted individual had previously been imprisoned for weapons smuggling," the statement said.
Senior U.S. military leaders have said northern Iraq remains the most troublesome area after a security crackdown was launched in and around Baghdad in February.
U.S. military and civilian casualties have dropped sharply in the past two months, partly as a result of 30,000 extra U.S. troops targeting al Qaeda fighters and Shi’ite Muslim militias. The troops became fully operational in mid-June.
The military says attacks have dropped 55 percent since the troop "surge", a last-ditch attempt to avert sectarian civil war between majority Shi’ites and minority Sunni Arabs.
More efficient Iraqi security forces and increasing use of U.S.-backed neighbourhood police units organised by mainly Sunni Arab tribal leaders have also been credited for falling violence.
During one of Saturday’s operations in Samarra, militants opened fire on the coalition forces, prompting an air strike that killed eight gunmen, including the suspect believed to be involved in the prison break, the statement said.
In another incident, two militants blew themselves up using a suicide vest when the coalition forces ordered them out of their vehicle. (Writing by Alaa Shahine; Editing by Charles Dick)