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Iraqi Awakening Council members kidnapped, killed

  • Story Highlights
  • Eight Awakening Council members kidnapped; 14 people killed in 2 other attacks
  • Strikes latest in spate of recent attacks on councils by al Qaeda in Iraq
  • U.S. announces Operation Phantom Phoenix against al Qaeda in Iraq
  • U.S.: Al Qaeda in Iraq trying to regain strength, establish support in northern Iraq
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Insurgents have kidnapped eight Awakening Council members and killed 14 other people in Baghdad attacks, said an Iraqi Interior Ministry official on Tuesday.

The Shiite Awakening Council members were kidnapped Monday night in the northeastern Shiite neighborhood of Shaab, one of Baghdad's most dangerous areas and a center for outlawed Shiite Muslim fighters, the official said.

Gunmen in at least three vehicles surrounded a checkpoint controlled by the Shiite Awakening Council in Shaab and seized their victims, said the official.

The kidnappings are the latest of several recent attacks on Awakening Councils which are often made up of Sunni Muslims. Many councils have been recruited by the U.S. military's "Concerned Local Citizens Program" to work against al Qaeda in Iraq and other militias.

Earlier Monday, two separate suicide attacks on other Baghdad Awakening Councils killed 14 people, the official said.

Attackers first struck inside a compound of the Sunni Endowment -- located in northern Baghdad's Adhamiya district -- which oversees Sunni religious sites in Iraq.

The attack killed six people, including Riyadh al-Samaraie, a well-respected Sunni leader who was key in helping reduce violence in his northern Baghdad neighborhood.

Awakening Council banners hung on neighborhood walls Tuesday, bearing words of condolence, according to The Associated Press.

Sunni Endowment leader Ahmed Abdul Ghafur al-Samarrai told the AP that the killers originated from Iraq's volatile province west of Baghdad.

"Those criminal gangs fled from al-Anbar province to Adhamiya neighborhood for bloodshed and to abuse the dignity of the people," al-Samarrai told AP.

About 10 minutes later, a suicide car bomber struck an office used by an Awakening Council in the Sabaa Abkar neighborhood, also in northern Baghdad.

Eight people, including three Awakening Council members, were killed in that attack, said the Interior official.

U.S. launches new campaign against al Qaeda in Iraq

The U.S. military announced on Tuesday a new countrywide offensive against al Qaeda in Iraq which it has dubbed Operation Phantom Phoenix.

The joint Iraqi and U.S. operation aims to "pursue and neutralize remaining al-Qaeda in Iraq and other extremist elements," said Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq.

Although the U.S. described the operation as nationwide, a spokesman said, "it is clear al Qaeda in Iraq is attempting to regain strength and establish new support areas in northern Iraq."

Al Qaeda in Iraq "has fled its former sanctuaries and remains a dangerous foe. Iraqi and Coalition Forces will pursue AQI and deny them sanctuary," Lt. Col. James Hutton said.

Odierno said that in addition to the use of force, the operation includes "non-lethal aspects ... designed to improve delivery of essential services, economic development and local governance capacity."

The Interior Ministry official also reported the following attacks in Baghdad on Tuesday:

  • A roadside bomb struck a car carrying a Baghdad municipality official, killing him and wounding another person in the car as it traveled in the western Mansour neighborhood.
  • Gunmen shot and killed police Col. Mohammed Gharib in the southeastern Shiite neighborhood of Zafaraniya.
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    CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.

    Copyright 2008 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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