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Insurgents kill Iraqi personnel near Baqouba

US intensifies push against Tal Afar rebels

BAGHDAD -- Insurgents killed 19 Iraqi security forces yesterday in clashes around Baqouba, while US and Iraqi forces intensified an offensive in a rebel-occupied city the Americans subdued last year, only to have the Iraqis lose control.

Eight policemen died in a pair of shoot-outs in Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, officials said. Six policemen and two soldiers were killed in a gunbattle in Buhriz, a suburb of Baqouba, officials said.

Three Iraqi soldiers also died yesterday when their convoy was attacked by gunmen near Adhaim, 30 miles north of Baqouba, police said.

To the north, fighting raged for a second day in the outskirts of Tal Afar, an ethnically mixed insurgent stronghold.

US and Iraqi officials urged civilians to leave affected areas of the city, 260 miles northwest of Baghdad, a sign that the Americans were preparing a major assault. US forces crushed insurgents in Tal Afar last fall, leaving only about 500 American soldiers behind and handing over control to the Iraqis.

But Iraqi authorities lost control of the city. That forced the US command to shift the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment from the Baghdad area to Tal Afar.

Yesterday, US and Iraqi forces fired at insurgents on the western side of the city, Iraqi officials said. Elsewhere, US and Iraqi forces were moving house to house, searching for weapons and arresting the men capable of firing them, Iraqi authorities said.

Hospital officials said they were unsure of casualties because it was too dangerous for ambulances to reach the area. Officials said they hoped to get ambulances into the area today.

Elsewhere, four civilians were killed and 11 wounded when four mortar shells fired at a US installation missed the target and exploded in a mixed residential and commercial area of Samarra, the US military and Iraqi police said.

The blasts shattered shops and left pools of blood on the dusty streets of the city, 60 miles north of Baghdad. Doctors and nurses at the local hospital struggled to bandage the wounded, some of them with horrific shrapnel wounds. Doctors hovered over one man with bone protruding from his left leg.

A 10-year-old boy lay naked on a bed, his head, arm, and leg swathed in bandages. Rumors spread that the Americans fired the rounds, but US and Iraqi officials insisted they did not.

''We were at work and were hit by a mortar round while trying to earn bread for our children," shouted one man who would not give his name.

''It was a workshop for God's sake. Where is the government? Where is the Cabinet? How long will the Americans continue to do this?"

Gunmen also abducted three Iraqi contractors after they left the US-run Taji air base some 10 miles north of Baghdad, police Lieutenant Miqdad al-Khazragi said.

US and Iraqi soldiers killed one insurgent and arrested 10 others in operations starting late Friday in the Mosul area, the military said.

US and Iraqi officials had hoped that a new constitution, finalized Aug. 28 after weeks of negotiations, would help bring Iraq's factions together and in time draw Sunni Arabs away from the Sunni-dominated insurgency.

Instead, the bitter talks sharpened communal tensions at a time when both Sunnis and Shi'ites accused extremists from the other community of killing their civilians. Discreet talks are underway to make changes in the language of the draft to ease Sunni Arab hostility to the document.

Both Sunni and Shi'ite community leaders are gearing up for an intense political battle in the Oct. 15 referendum. Sunni clerics are urging their followers to reject the charter, while most members of the Shi'ite clergy support it.

Hundreds of Sunni Arabs met in Baghdad yesterday to urge the defeat of the constitution.

Party leader Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim spoke at a funeral for some of the nearly 1,000 Shi'ites killed in the stampede that broke out Thursday during a procession on a Baghdad bridge. Rumors that a suicide bomber was among the crowd triggered the stampede.

In other developments yesterday:

Officials in Ramadi said they had selected 21 members of a new city council, two of them women, despite insurgent threats. The new lineup was to be announced tomorrow.

Police found three unidentified corpses in the Tigris River north of Baghdad, possible victims of insurgent or sectarian violence.

Three gunmen set fire to fruit and vegetable stalls in a mostly Sunni neighborhood of western Baghdad.

Two men were killed and one was wounded in a drive-by shooting at a Sunni mosque in northern Baghdad, police said.

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