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U.S. forces kill 6 Iraqi police

BAGHDAD --U.S. forces battled Iraqi police and gunmen Friday, killing six policemen, after an American raid to capture an Iraqi police lieutenant accused of leading a cell of Shiite militiamen, the military said. Seven gunmen also died in the fight.

The U.S. troops captured the lieutenant in a pre-dawn raid in Baghdad, but the soldiers came under "heavy and accurate fire" from a nearby Iraqi police checkpoint, as well as intense firing from rooftops and a church, the military said in a statement.

During the battle, U.S. warplanes struck in front of the police position, without hitting it directly, "to prevent further escalation" of the battle, it said. There were no casualties among the U.S. troops, but seven gunmen and six of the policemen firing on the Americans were killed, the statement said.

The captured lieutenant was a "high-ranking" leader of a cell suspected of helping coordinate Iranian support for Shiite extremists in Iraq as well as carrying out roadside bombings against mortar attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces, the military said. The lieutenant is believed to be linked to the Quds Force, a branch of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards, it said.

Iraqi police officials had no immediate comment on the clash.

The U.S. military accuses the Quds Force of organizing Shiite militants into so-called "special groups" and arming them with weapons and explosives -- including a particularly deadly form of roadside bombs called explosively formed penetrators. Tehran denies the claims.

The Iraqi police are believed to be widely infiltrated by Shiite militiamen blamed for sectarian killings, creating a deep mistrust of the force among the Sunni Arab minority. Purging the force of a militia presence is one of the political benchmarks sought by Washington, though the Bush administration said in its assessment released Thursday that progress on purging the security forces is "unsatisfactory."