BAGHDAD: The number of Iraqis killed in February rose by 33 per cent over January, reversing a six-month trend of reduced violence, in a setback to the US military plan to curb the bloodshed ravaging the country.
The combined figures from the interior, defence and health ministries showed that the total number of Iraqis killed in February was 721, including 636 civilians, compared with 541 dead in January.
US soldiers killed six suspected Al Qaeda militants and detained 13 others during operations in Baghdad yesterday, the US military said. Two people were killed and 10 wounded near Kirkuk in an attack on Shi'ite pilgrims heading home from the Arbaeen religious ceremony.
Amidst rising violence, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hopes his first visit to Iraq will mark a major step in strengthening bilateral ties.
"We regard the creation of insecurity, disagreement and tension as a plot by the occupiers in Iraq," Ahmadinejad said, dismissing US allegations of Iranian meddling in the country.
Iraqi forces fanned out in the northern city of Mosul searching for a Chaldean Catholic archbishop kidnapped after a shootout in an attack Pope Benedict XVI termed "atrocious".
US forces have detained the suspected leader of a cell recruiting female suicide bombers in Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad.
The suspected militant was detained north of Khan Beni Sad in the province where a series of suicide bombings have been launched by women bombers.