Violence rages, but U.S. says it's confined
In a major military operation, forces captured 18 and found weapons caches.
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- The U.S. military spokesman in Iraq asserted Thursday that major violence is largely confined to just three of the country's 18 provinces, but fighting there raged on with at least 58 people killed in execution-style slayings, bombings and gunbattles.
For the third straight day, Sunni insurgents hit a major police and jail facility -- this time with a suicide car bombing that killed 25 in central Baghdad. The attacker detonated his explosives at the entrance to the Interior Ministry Major Crimes unit in the Karradah district, killing 10 civilians and 15 policemen, authorities said.
As insurgent forces raised the stakes with the attacks, the U.S. military announced late Thursday that it was in the second day of an operation with Iraqi soldiers "to disrupt anti-Iraqi forces and to find and destroy terrorist caches in the Abu Ghraib area west of Baghdad."
The military statement said 1,400 personnel were involved in the operation -- termed Northern Lights -- and had captured "two persons of high-value interest and 16 suspected terrorists." Two large weapons caches also were discovered, the military said.
Abu Ghraib, also the site of the infamous prison, is where U.S. and British forces stormed a house Thursday morning and freed three Christian peace activists held hostage since Nov. 26.
The Interior Ministry unit that was targeted Thursday investigates major crimes, and its jail held about 20 suspected insurgents, police Lt. Col. Falah al-Mohammadawi said. The ministry is a predominantly Shiite department and is heavily infiltrated by members of various Shiite militias.
Also, without firing a shot, U.S. and British forces stormed a house Thursday and freed three Christian peace activists who were bound but unguarded, ending a four-month hostage ordeal that saw an American in the group killed and dumped along a railroad track.
The U.S. ambassador and the top American military spokesman held out hope the operation on the outskirts of Baghdad could lead to a break in the captivity of American reporter Jill Carroll, a free-lance writer for The Christian Science Monitor who was abducted Jan. 7.
The military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, said the 8 a.m. rescue of the Briton and two Canadians from a "kidnapping cell" was based on information divulged by a man during interrogation only three hours earlier. The man was captured by U.S. forces Wednesday night.
"They were bound, they were together, there were no kidnappers in the areas," Lynch told a news briefing.
The freed men were Canadians James Loney, 41, and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, and Briton Norman Kember, 74. The men -- members of the Chicago-based Christian Peacemaker Teams -- were kidnapped Nov. 26 along with an American colleague, Tom Fox, 54.
Fox's body was found this month, shot and dumped in western Baghdad.
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