US forces in Iraq kill militant wearing suicide bomb belt

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BAGHDAD, Oct 27 (Reuters) US forces today said they killed two Shi'ite militiamen, including one wearing a suicide vest, during a raid north of Baghdad to capture a rogue leader of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army.

The military said the main suspect, one of 15 detained in the operation, had links to an Iranian intelligence cell and was involved in kidnappings of and attacks on US forces using explosively formed penetrators (EFPs).

EFPs are a particularly deadly a type of roadside bombs that can destroy a tank and have killed scores of US soldiers. The US military accuses Iran of supplying them to Shi'ite militias, a charge Iran denies.

The raid targeted the group's hideout in the village of Fawwaliya in the volatile Diyala province.

''As the assault force approached the building ... two armed men with weapons and hand grenades manoeuvred on the assault force, one of whom was wearing a suicide vest,'' the military said in a statement.

The two men were killed after ignoring warning shots, while the main target of the raid surrendered peacefully, it said.

It is unusual for Shi'ite militants to wear suicide belts.

Suicide attacks are a tactic more favoured by al Qaeda and other Sunni Arab insurgents.

Sadr ordered the Mehdi Army to observe a six-month ceasefire in August, saying that he wanted to reorganise it. Analysts and the US military say it appears to have splintered into factions, many of which are believed to be beyond his control.

US forces have stepped up operations against Mehdi Army militants it says have ignored Sadr's ceasefire call. They have staged a number of raids in Sadr City, the sprawling slum in Baghdad that is Sadr's main stronghold.

REUTERS SG MIR KP1703

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