BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – An influential Sunni association called for an end to a weeklong counterinsurgency offensive in Baghdad, saying it overwhemingly targets members of their religious minority and has led to the detention of hundreds of people.

Eight people died from insurgent attacks around the country, bringing to at least 830 the number killed since the Shiite-led government took office April 28 – an average of 23 deaths a day, not counting rebels.

In the past 18 months, 12,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed, including more than 10,000 Shiites, Interior Minister Bayan Jabr said, citing data from a research center. But he said he figured the affiliations based on the areas where victims lived, not individual religious identifications.

Army Col. Mark Milley, who commands the 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, said intelligence indicated insurgents were using Baghdad’s southern districts to stage attacks in the capital.

U.S. and Iraqi troops swept through several southern neighborhoods Friday. Milley said 84 suspects were detained, while a “half a dozen suspected al-Qaida cell members” and several other fighters from Sudan, Syria, Egypt and Jordan had been captured since the operation began Sunday.

“For two years I have been suffering from these terrorists, now it is my time,” said Brig. Gen. Mohammed Essa Baher, an Iraqi army commander from the southern district of Mahmoudiya whose two sons had been killed by insurgents.

Jabr said the sweep, known as Operation Lightning, had captured 700 suspected insurgents and killed 28 militants.

Before the operation, the biggest Iraqi offensive since Saddam Hussein’s fall two years ago, authorities controlled only eight of Baghdad’s 23 entrances. Now all are under government control.

Despite the government gains, violence continued throughout the country.

In northern Mosul, a suicide car bomber blew himself up near a police station in the southern part of the city, killing three police officers and wounding five, police Capt. Ahmed Khalil said.

A mortar attack in Tal Afar, a city about 50 miles west of Mosul, killed two Iraqi men and injured three, the police chief, Col. Ishmael Mohammed, said. Police also reported finding seven bodies in different parts of the city, identifying them as five terrorists, a police officer and a Kurdistan Democratic Party member.

Sunni clerics in Baghdad took advantage of Friday prayer services to call for an end to Operation Lightning, which many Sunnis say target members of their own religious minority. Sunni Arabs are thought to make up the overwhelming majority of the insurgency.

“I appeal to every official here in Iraq to stop humiliating people and (end) the raiding campaign,” Sheik Mahmoud al-Sumaidie said in the Um al-Qura Mosque, which also serves as the headquarters of the influential Association of Muslim Scholars.

Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shiite, has been trying to include the Sunni minority in the political process, seen as the only way to defuse the insurgency.

But the incessant violence – launched by Islamic extremists to Saddam loyalists – highlights what still needs to be done to stop the killings.

Among those killed Friday were a city council member in the ethnically mixed city of Kirkuk, an Iraqi contractor in western Samarra and an Iraqi man killed by a morter outside Baghdad’s main hospital.

Baghdad police also pulled the body of a man, with bound hands and a gunshot wound to the head, from the Tigris River.

Separately, Australia’s top Muslim cleric, who is trying to secure the release of 63-year-old Australian hostage Douglas Wood, said he hoped to receive news of the captive’s imminent release. He did not elaborate.

Wood was abducted in late April, shortly before a militant group, calling itself the Shura Council of the Mujahedeen of Iraq, released a video May 1 showing him pleading for Australia to withdraw its 1,400 soldiers from Iraq. The Australian government has refused.


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