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Iraqi plane crash kills 4 Americans

Attacks continue; US mistakenly detains key Sunni leader

BAGHDAD -- An Iraqi Air Force plane crashed yesterday, killing four US Air Force personnel and one Iraqi, the US military said today.

The crash occurred near the village of Jalula, about 80 miles northeast of the capital, said military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Fred Wellman. ''All the personnel onboard are confirmed to have been killed in action, but there is still an investigation ongoing," he said.

It was unclear what type of fixed-wing aircraft it was, who was in control of it, or why it crashed. Strong wind buffeted central and northern Iraq yesterday.

The crash came amid sustained insurgent violence across the nation, with attacks killing at least 36 people. Also, the US military nearly set off a sectarian crisis by mistakenly arresting the leader of Iraq's top Sunni Muslim political party.

The arrest of Iraqi Islamic Party leader Mohsen Abdul-Hamid, his three sons, and four guards hindered efforts to entice Iraq's once-dominant Sunni community back into the political fold.

Many believe the Sunni fall from power, and the parallel rise of Iraq's majority Shi'ite population, is spurring the raging insurgency, driving many disenchanted Sunnis to launch attacks that have killed more than 760 people since the April 28 announcement of the mostly Shi'ite government.

In a commitment to end the violence, Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari vowed that ''Operation Lightning," the large-scale campaign that began Sunday, would rid Baghdad of militants and, in particular, suicide car bombers, the deadliest and regular weapon of choice for insurgents.

But renewed carnage yesterday showed the difficulty of his job.

Two suicide bombers blew themselves up outside the mayor's office in Hillah, 60 miles south of Baghdad. The attackers waded into a crowd of 500 police officers who were staging an early morning protest of a government decision to disband their special forces unit.

Staggering the detonations by one minute and 100 yards apart to maximize the casualties, the bombers killed at least 27 police and wounded 118, said police Captain Muthana Khalid Ali.

The Polish military, which controls the area, said about 30 Iraqis were killed.

In an apparent claim of responsibility, Al Qaeda in Iraq said in an Internet statement that one of its members carried out an attack ''against a group of special Iraqi forces."

Separate attacks in northern Iraq killed at least nine other Iraqis, with gunmen slaying a senior Kurdish official in Kirkuk and a Sunni tribal leader in Mosul, a roadside bomb killing a civilian in Baquba, and Iraqi soldiers shooting to death six insurgents in Mosul and northern Anbar Province.

US warplanes and helicopters attacked insurgents near Husaybah, on the Syrian border, west of Baghdad, the military said. It said the number of enemy casualties could not be determined.

In recent weeks, Shi'ite and Sunni leaders have met to try to settle their differences, with both camps declaring their intent to work to end the violence.

But yesterday's roughly 12-hour detention of Abdul-Hamid flared tensions yet again, causing Sunni leaders to condemn his arrest and accuse American authorities of trying to alienate their community.

Few details were available on why the Americans arrested the Sunni leader, but it appeared to be related to the ongoing Sunni-led insurgency and fears of a broader sectarian conflict starting up.

The US military acknowledged it had made a ''mistake" by detaining Abdul-Hamid. ''Following the interview, it was determined that he was detained by mistake and should be released," the military said. ''Coalition forces regret any inconvenience and acknowledge [Abdul-Hamid's] cooperation in resolving this matter."

Iraqi authorities suggested someone had planted ''lies" against him in a bid to stir up ''sectarian sedition."

Abdul-Hamid himself said US forces questioned him about the ''current situation," an apparent reference to the wave of attacks. After his release, Abdul-Hamid told reporters how US special forces blew open the doors to his home ''and dragged [his sons and guards] outside like sheep."

''They forced me to lay on the ground along with my sons and guards and one of the soldiers put his foot on my neck for 20 minutes," he told the Al-Jazeera television.

The country's largest Shi'ite political party, the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, condemned the arrest and demanded US forces ''be more accurate and not take action against political figures without legal justification."

Abdul-Hamid's party had in recent weeks taken steps to become more involved in the political process after boycotting the Jan. 30 parliamentary elections, which were dominated by parties drawn from Iraq's majority Shi'ite population.

In a separate development yesterday, Iraqi insurgent leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi purportedly made an audio address to Osama bin Laden to assure the Al Qaeda leader that he was in good health after being wounded in a firefight with US troops. There was no way to confirm whether the voice was that of the Jordanian-born Zarqawi.

The recording was carried by a website frequently used by militant Islamic groups, however, and the voice sounded similar to that previously attributed to Zarqawi.

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