US and Iraqi raid kills 80 in rebel camp

A RAID by US and Iraqi forces on a suspected rebel training camp left 80 militants dead, the single biggest one-day death toll for rebels in months and the latest in a series of blows to the country’s insurgency, Iraqi officials said yesterday.

Politicians helping shape a post-election government, expected within days, said negotiators are considering naming a Sunni Arab as defence minister in a move aimed at bringing Sunni Arabs into the political process and perhaps to deflate the insurgency they lead.

The US military announced late Tuesday its air and ground forces backed Iraqi commandos during a noon-time raid on a suspected guerrilla training camp near Lake Tharthar in central Iraq.

Seven commandos died in fighting, the US military said, but it didn't give a death toll for rebels.

Iraqi officials said 80 rebels died in the clash the largest number of rebels killed in a single battle since the US Marine-led November attack on the former insurgent stronghold of Fallujah, which left more than 1,000 dead. On Sunday, US forces killed 26 assailants after they were ambushed south of Baghdad.

Also yesterday, a mortar shell or rocket landed on an elementary school in western Baghdad, killing at least one child and injuring three others, according to a police official who asked not to be named out of fear of retribution by attackers. Children fled the school, abandoning backpacks and desks littered with glass shards.

On the political front, Abbas Hassan Mousa al-Bayati, a top member of the United Iraqi Alliance, said negotiators from his Shi'ite-dominated bloc and a Kurdish coalition could choose a Sunni Arab to head the ministry of defence, which oversees the Iraqi army battling the insurgency.

"The defence ministry will go to a Sunni Arab because we do not want Arab Sunnis to feel that they are marginalised. They will be given one of the four major posts," al-Bayati said.

A president is expected to be named on Saturday.

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