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U.S.-Iraqi Forces Retake Diyala Village

U.S. and Iraqi forces have retaken a remote Iraqi village that was attacked by Sunni extremists Monday.

Lieutenant Colonel Fred Johnson says the militants attacked the village of Sherween after fleeing the U.S. offensive in Baqouba. Johnson said the U.S.-Iraqi forces killed 19 militants in the battle overnight. He did not comment on any casualties among coalition forces.

He said the attackers had fled Baqouba, focus of the U.S. offensive north of the capital, and had attacked Sherween 35 miles to the northeast in an attempt to "raise the morale" of their fighters.

The deputy governor of Diyala province says armed residents fought the attackers as best they could but the insurgents had taken over. Residents of Sherween had telephoned Iraqi officials a day earlier pleading for help, saying armed villagers were trying to defend themselves against the attackers. They also reported dozens killed on both sides.

Also today, a German woman who was kidnapped in Iraq has been released after 155 days in captivity, but her son is still being held hostage, Germany's foreign minister said Wednesday.

Hannelore Krause, 61, and her adult son, Sinan, disappeared in Iraq on Feb. 6.

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told reporters that the mother had been free since Tuesday afternoon and is now at the German Embassy in Baghdad, but said he could give no details of how she was released.

"For all that we are relieved about the release of Mrs. Krause, pressing uncertainty remains over the fate of her son, who remains a hostage," Steinmeier said. He pledged that Germany would continue to do all it can to secure his release.

An official at the German Embassy in Baghdad refused to comment on the release or confirm Krause was at the mission.

The mother and son were shown twice in videos released by an insurgent group calling itself "Arrows of Righteousness," which first claimed to have snatched the two on March 10.

In both of the videos — released in March and April — the group threatened to kill the hostages if Germany did not comply with an ultimatum to start withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan within 10 days.

Germany, which opposed the war in Iraq and has no troops there, has some 3,000 soldiers serving in NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan — largely in the relatively calm north.

German officials have not specified what the pair were doing in Iraq. But in one of the videos, Krause said she worked for the Austrian Embassy in Baghdad, and a voiceover by a militant said her son worked for the Iraqi Foreign Ministry.

In March, Krause's husband, Mohamed al-Tornachi, and Sinan's wife issued a videotaped statement that was aired on German and Arab television pleading with the insurgents to free the two. Also that month, German President Horst Koehler appealed for their release in a video message.

In May last year, two German engineers were freed in Iraq after 99 days in captivity there. Another German was released after three weeks in December 2005.

In Other Developments:

  • Iraqi security forces on Wednesday seized a truck carrying 200 explosives belts — the kind used by suicide bombers — as it crossed into Iraq from Syria, Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf said. He said the driver was being questioned, but did not specify his nationality.
  • Prime Minister Gordon Brown acknowledged there had been failures in planning for post-conflict Iraq and said Wednesday that Britain's forces would be shifting away from combat and more money would be poured into stimulating the economy. Brown, in office for two weeks, said he had not set a timetable to withdraw the 5,500 British troops stationed mainly around the southern Iraqi city of Basra and would respect his obligations to both the United Nations and the Iraqi government.
  • Kurdish leaders on Wednesday spoke out against a key oil law, raising further doubts over efforts to pass one of the political benchmarks sought by the U.S. at a time when the Bush administration is trying to fend off critics of its Iraq policy. The oil bill and other benchmarks are aimed at encouraging the Sunni Arab minority to support the government and turn away from the insurgency, easing violence over the long-term.
  • As the Senate debates taking a new course in Iraq, President Bush's national security adviser scheduled a meeting with more than a dozen Republican senators in a bid to shore up eroding support for the war. Stephen Hadley was to visit Capitol Hill on Wednesday — one of many such forays in recent days — as the White House finalized a 23-page progress report on Iraq that concludes the government in Baghdad has made little progress in meeting reform goals laid down by Mr. Bush and Congress. (Read more)
  • A Marine investigating officer says murder charges should be dismissed against a Marine accused of killing three Iraqi men in Haditha. The officer says the government's theory that Lance Corporal Justin Sharratt executed the men is "incredible" and contrary to the evidence. The Iraqis were among 24 people killed in the aftermath of a 2005 roadside bombing that killed a Marine.
  • Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Iraqi security forces will be ready to take over security duties in the tumultuous southern city of Basra when British forces hand them over at the beginning of September. All British bases in Basra came under mortar fire over the past day — a frequent occurrence in the city — the British military said Wednesday. No casualties or damage were recorded.
  • West of the capital, insurgents conducted what may have been a vendetta attack against civilians in Karmah, a Sunni Arab town west of Baghdad where local tribesmen have turned against al Qaeda. A U.S. military statement quoted witnesses as saying two vehicles drove to a house owned by someone involved in the local Provincial Security Forces, locked the occupants inside, and blew up the house. Five civilians were wounded and three were still missing in the rubble, the military said.
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