Six suspects killed, 218 held in raids in Baghdad

( dpa ) - The Iraqi army killed six terrorist suspects and arrested 218 in security raids across Baghdad in the wake of a stepped-up wave of violence that has engulfed Iraq in the past two weeks, the military said Tuesday. Iraqi troops launched a series of raids in eight areas across the capital as part of a major security offensive to clear the city of insurgents. The raids left four security personnel dead and 14 injured, according to a military statement.

Four people were freed from captivity and 20 bombs were discovered and detonated during the operations, which were launched over the previous 48 hours. The offensive came a day after two suicide bombers struck Baghdad's Sunni district of Azamya, killing the leader of a neighbourhood volunteer patrol from the Awakening Council, which fights militants affiliated to the al-Qaeda terrorist network and has branches across the country.

In the capital's northern Shaab district, gunmen in five cars kidnapped overnight 10 members of the Awakening Council who were manning a checkpoint in the area. The Sunni Muslim volunteer police squads have been increasingly targeted in recent weeks by al-Qaeda members. The terrorist organization's leader, Osama bin Laden, urged Sunni Arab fighters in Iraq to target the council's members in a message released in December.

The US-backed council contains many former al-Qaeda sympathizers. The Shiite-dominated Iraqi government, although pledging to integrate the squads into the security forces, is wary of the Awakening Council potentially becoming the core of a powerful militia which would defend the interests of Sunni Muslims and stoke already entrenched sectarianism.

Meanwhile earlier Tuesday, the US military stormed a kindergarten in a Shiite-dominated district of Baghdad and arrested three of its guards, the Iraqi government said.

US troops raided Kanari kindergarten in the Jamila area of Sadr City where they smashed toys, doors, windows and roofs, according to a statement by the media centre of the Iraqi cabinet.

"No evidence was found during the raid on the kindergarten that proves the school's involvement in terrorist acts or that it is used for storing weapons," the statement said.

The reason for the operation was not immediately known.

Sadr City, located in east Baghdad, has been a hotbed for fighters from the Shiite militia known as the Mahdi Army which is controlled by radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

US forces have frequently launched operations against Mahdi Army offices in the area and arrested local politicians and fighters. In a separate incident, three members of a family, including an Iraqi soldier, were killed by gunmen in the town of Hawija near the northern city of Kirkuk, the Voices of Iraq news agency reported

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