BAGHDAD, Apr 30 (Reuters) US and Iraqi forces killed more than 20 foreign insurgents, several of them wearing suicide vests, during raids south of Baghdad in the past few weeks, the US military said today.
The raids took place in and around Yusifiya, a village 15 km (9 miles) south of Baghdad, which insurgents have used as a staging area for suicide attacks in Baghdad, the military said in a statement.
A US combat helicopter was presumably shot down in the Yusifiya area on April 1, killing its two pilots.
US and Iraqi forces captured seven wanted insurgents and detained more than 50 other suspects on Saturday during raids on locations believed to be safe houses for foreign fighters and al Qaeda-linked leaders, the military said.
In a rare Internet video posted earlier this week, Iraq's al Qaeda leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who Washington blames for most of the bloody suicide attacks, denounced the new Iraqi government and warned of ''more painful'' attacks.
Building strong Iraqi security forces to fight Sunni rebels and sectarian violence that has pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war is a cornerstone of Washington's plan to start withdrawing US troops, which now number roughly 133,000.
Security Adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie told Reuters on Friday that the US-trained Iraqi forces now played a ''lead role'' in 60 percent of military operations in Iraq.
REUTERS CH PM1456