Insurgent accused of training women for suicide attacks
British airman killed by rocket in south Iraq
BAGHDAD - The US military yesterday announced the capture of an insurgent leader who it said has been recruiting and training women, including his wife, to wrap in explosives for suicide attacks.
In southern Iraq, a British airman was killed in a rocket attack on a base near Basra late Friday, said Captain Finn Aldrich, a British military spokesman.
The US military said it had killed six insurgents and detained 13 suspects Friday and yesterday during operations against Al Qaeda in Iraq in central and northern Iraq.
On the eve of a visit to Baghdad by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, the country's state news agency reported that he rejected accusations that Iran is fueling violence in Iraq.
"This is the temper of the Americans that they point fingers toward others wherever they are defeated," he said. "Instability, divisions, and tensions in Iraq result from the occupiers."
US officials said the suspected insurgent trainer was arrested Thursday in an operation near the town of Kan Bani Sad, north of Baghdad in Diyala Province - still an Al Qaeda hotbed. It was the latest sign that Al Qaeda in Iraq was continuing to use women to carry out suicide attacks.
"The ringleader was a man trying to recruit women to carry out SVEST [suicide vest] bombings. The cell leader used his wife and another woman to act as carriers of his next SVEST attack," the military said.
Women have recently been used more frequently by Al Qaeda in Iraq as bombers, with six attacks or attempted attacks this year, according to US military statistics. A total of 19 such attacks have occurred since the US-led invasion began in 2003, Rear Admiral Gregory Smith said in a recent briefing.
The latest included two women with a history of psychiatric treatment who killed about 100 people at pet markets in Baghdad on Feb. 1.
It remains unclear whether Al Qaeda has begun using women because it has been unable to recruit new insurgents or because they are more difficult to detect.
In a separate development, an Iranian-trained sniper instructor was arrested in Baghdad yesterday along with three other men, the military said.
Officials said the man was also a specialist in the use of explosively formed penetrators, bombs that are designed to defeat the armor used in American military vehicles and tanks. Most of those bombs are designed and often built in Iran.
The instructor is believed to have helped Shi'ite extremists, mostly those who have broken away from the Mahdi militia of anti-US cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
A cease-fire declared by Sadr, which was recently extended another six months, has been a key element in a three-piece effort that has come together to help reduce violence since mid-2007. Two other factors are the influx of thousands of US troops last summer, and creation of Sunni-dominated groups funded by the US military to fight Al Qaeda in Iraq, the most extremist of the Sunni insurgents.
Although violence has declined by 60 percent in the past six months, attacks have not stopped. Suicide bombers and car bombs are mainly responsible for civilian deaths, while roadside bombs and Iranian-designed penetrators are used against the US and Iraqi military.
At least 29 US troops died while serving in Iraq in February, the third-lowest monthly casualty toll for the US military since the American-led invasion in 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
President Bush, in Crawford, Texas, yesterday declined to promise more US troop withdrawals from Iraq before he leaves office, and underscored the need for a strong military presence during Iraqi provincial elections in October.
Security has improved markedly since last summer when the last of five Army brigades arrived in Iraq to complete the president's buildup of 30,000 troops. What remains unclear is whether Bush will order additional drawdowns in the final months of his presidency.
At a news conference at his ranch, Bush said decisions about troop cuts, beyond those now planned through July, would be based on recommendations from his generals. But he said there has to be strong military support in place to ensure the viability of Iraqi provincial elections, an indication that more troop reductions might have to wait until after the voting in Iraq on Oct. 1.
The top US commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, is expected to recommend to Bush in April that he wait about four to six weeks - after the troops involved in the military buildup return home - before deciding whether to withdraw any more troops.