( AP ) - Dozens of suspected al-Qaida militants stormed a Shiite village north of Baghdad on Saturday, killing at least 13 people and torching homes, police said.
The attack on the predominantly Shiite village of Dwelah, about 45 miles north of Baghdad in Diyala province, began at about 6:30 a.m. with a bombardment of mortar rounds, a police officer said. Then 50 to 60 armed militants streamed in and opened fire, forcing families to flee.
The militants burned homes and killed at least 13 villagers, including three children and two women, the officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release information about the attack. Fourteen villagers were wounded.
The villagers apparently also fought back, and three gunmen were killed in the attack in one of Iraq's most violent regions, police said.
The U.S. military has courted both Sunni and Shiite tribal leaders in Diyala, hoping to drive out al-Qaida after a similar effort saw some success in Iraq's westernmost province, Anbar, where Sunni tribes rose up against the organization's brutal tactics and austere version of Sunni Islam.
In the same area in the town of Duluiyah, a suicide attacker cornered in his home by local volunteers in the U.S.-backed program blew himself up on Friday, killing one of the fighters and wounding two, a police officer said. Just a few miles north of that attack, insurgents killed another of the local guards, members of a so-called Awakening Council, another security official said. Both spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release details of the attack.
And about 30 miles south of the capital, militants stormed a Sunni village just outside Iskandariyah, killing three of the Awakening members and abducting five on Friday, including the village's tribal chief, according to Ahmed al-Azawi, spokesman for the Awakening Council and an Iskandariyah police officer.
Beginning with a Sunni rebellion against al-Qaida in Iraq in the former insurgent stronghold of Anbar province, the U.S.-supported movement of local volunteers is considered a success in more than four years of war. It now includes some 60,000 Iraqis nationwide, most of them Sunni Arabs, according to senior U.S. military officers.
Separately in southern Iraq, police captured a suspect believed responsible for supplying and coordinating roadside bomb attacks against American and Iraqi troops, the U.S. military said Saturday. The American statement said the suspect, detained Friday in Nasiriyah, about 200 miles southeast of Baghdad, had traveled repeatedly to Iran and was found with Iranian weapons and munitions, including three new Iranian-made rockets and boosters, a launcher and AK-47 assault rifles and ammunition.
Also in Iraq's south, gunmen abducted the dean of a technical institute in Amarah, a Shiite militia stronghold about 200 miles southeast of Baghdad, leaving behind his car and driver, according to an aide. Raid al-Saaiy was taken away by gunmen in a pickup truck, said the aide, Ahmed Ajeel.
Although it was not immediately clear why al-Saaiy was targeted, Iraqi academics have fallen victim to Iraq's religious extremists and other violent groups, with nearly 200 professors murdered and thousands fleeing the country since 2006. Associates said al-Saaiy previously worked with British forces for more than a year on reconstruction and was not affiliated with either militias or politics.
In Baghdad, hundreds of Iraqis set off on their pilgrimage to Mecca - the first wave the thousands expected to head to the holy Saudi city to perform the hajj, a once-in-a-lifetime duty for Muslims.
"God willing, we are heading to the holy Mecca and to the tomb of Prophet Mohammed to perform pilgrimage. And God willing, all Iraqis will be unified," Mohammed al-Samaraie told AP Television News.