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Iraq Transition

Minister's brother free after gunbattle

U.S. forces fight insurgents near Iraq's border with Syria

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The brother of Iraq's interior minister escaped Sunday amid the chaos of a gunfight between his captors and members of Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army militia, according to Iraqi police and a militia official.

It remained unclear who kidnapped Dr. Abdul Jabbar Solagh Jabr, the brother of Interior Minister Bayan Jabr, Saturday afternoon in eastern Baghdad.

Mehdi Army fighters engaged in a gunbattle with Jabr's captors, said Abbas al-Rubaie, an official with the radical cleric's office in Sadr City.

An official with Baghdad's emergency police confirmed al-Rubaie's account, saying police sent a patrol to the scene after the gunbattle.

Al-Sadr is the Shiite cleric whose supporters battled U.S. troops for months last year in Najaf and Baghdad. Al-Sadr and the group later started participating in the country's political process.

Al-Rubaie said four Mehdi militia men were on their regular patrol Sunday around 7:15 p.m. (12:15 p.m. ET) when they discovered a parked car.

As the armed men approached, gunmen opened fire on them from inside the car, al-Rubaie said.

After several minutes of gunfire, al-Rubaie said the abductors fled -- one of them wounded -- leaving Jabr inside the vehicle.

The abductors had made no demands for his release, a Health Ministry official told CNN earlier Sunday.

Jabr, who is the head of al-Hakim hospital, was kidnapped Saturday around 4:30 p.m. by four gunmen while he was driving in the eastern Baghdad neighborhood of Habibiya, according to a police official in the capital.

Jabr was stopped, pulled out of his car, put in another vehicle by the kidnappers and driven away, the official said.

Officials determined his identity when they found documents during a search of his car at the scene, the police official said.

An Iraqi police official told CNN that Jabr usually travels in his own car without bodyguards.

Meanwhile, gunmen killed the director-general of Iraq's Municipalities and Public Works Ministry, an Iraqi police official said Sunday.

Safaa Muhammed was driving his car in the western Baghdad neighborhood of Mansour when passing gunmen opened fire.

Second day of offensive

U.S. Marines and soldiers faced sporadic small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades as they entered Karabila on Sunday, part of the military's latest operation in Anbar province.

About 1,000 forces, backed by Marine aircraft, are trying to root out insurgents and enemy fighters in an area near the Syrian border, the military said.

No Marine casualties have been reported in the first two days of the offensive. One U.S. soldier was wounded, military officials said.

During the push into eastern Karabila, five miles from Syria, U.S. planes dropped three 500-pound bombs on a compound that they suspected to be an insurgent stronghold.

In another incident, seven civilians were wounded, six of whom were hospitalized, by a tank round.

Also, U.S. forces fired a .50-caliber machine gun at a suspicious vehicle, which blew up as if it was loaded with explosives.

On Saturday, U.S. forces went house to house in Sa'da, where many people fled before the mission. One resident told CNN many feared destruction similar to Falluja, site of ferocious battle in November.

"For the past several months, terrorists within Sa'da have escalated their intimidation and murder campaign against the local populace and city government officials," the military said.

The military said it killed eight insurgents in Sa'da, which is about 12 miles from the porous Syrian border.

According to the military, four of the insurgents were killed when they attacked a Marine position with small arms and at least one car rigged with a bomb. One insurgent surrendered, the military said.

Marines also found the town "littered" with homemade bombs, CNN's Jennifer Eccleston reported.

Karabila has been the site of two previous missions -- Operation Matador in May and Operation Spear in June.

In the past, U.S.-led offensives in Anbar have lasted about a week, but insurgents have returned to towns after the troops left. The city of Hit, however, still has a U.S. and Iraqi presence, after coalition forces took control about two months ago.

On Monday, the U.S. military said it was redeploying troops to the 30,000-square-mile region bound by the Euphrates River and the borders of Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Syria, where the Marines had been stretched thin.

Military officials believe more than 1,000 insurgents operate in the province, said Col. Stephen Davis, commander of the Marine Regimental Combat Team 2.

Operation Iron Fist was launched two weeks ahead of an October 15 national referendum on a new Iraqi constitution.

CNN's Arwa Damon, Jennifer Eccleston and Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.

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