May 11, 2007 / 1:46 AM / in 11 years

U.S. troops kill 4 gunmen in raids on car bomb cells

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - U.S. troops killed four militants suspected of involvement in car bomb networks, including one believed to have links to senior al Qaeda in Iraq leaders, the U.S. military said on Friday.

In a statement, the military said a series of raids against car bomb cells took place in and around Baghdad and the northern city of Mosul over the past two days. Nine militants were detained.

The four were killed on Friday near Taji, north of Baghdad, the statement said. The militant with suspected links to al Qaeda was a car bomb cell leader, the military said.

It said U.S. forces approached a building during the raid, when soldiers were fired upon by the four. Troops returned fire, killing them, it said.

U.S. and Iraqi forces launched a security crackdown in Baghdad in February that has cut sectarian death squad killings.

But car bombs mainly blamed on Sunni Islamist al Qaeda still plague the city, killing and wounding scores each week.

U.S. commanders say they are making it a priority to go after car bomb networks, while putting up tall concrete barriers around popular targets such as markets to minimize attacks.

In an interview with Reuters this week, the commander of U.S. troops in Baghdad, Major-General Joseph Fil, said his forces were making headway.

“Although we are still seeing car bombs, where they are being directed has changed significantly,” he said.

“The effect of the car bombs has been reduced hugely, they are not getting to markets anymore because they are not allowed. They are not getting to many of the neighborhoods that they used to go because they are just denied that opportunity.”

U.S. military officials say the number of car bombs in Baghdad has fallen by 41 percent during the three months of the security offensive compared to the same period before the plan.

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