MOSUL, Iraq — U.S. and Iraqi forces killed nine suspected insurgents and arrested eight others in a raid against an al-Qaida cell in northern Iraq, the U.S. military said Thursday.

Three Iraqi police were killed in the March 2 operation, the military said in a written statement.

The Tal Afar Special Weapons and Tactics Team, backed by U.S. Army Special Forces, targeted a cell responsible for assassinations and roadside bomb attacks in Iraq’s Ninevah province. The insurgent group was also suspected of several rocket attacks against military and civilian targets in the region, the military said.

Coalition officials in Baghdad did not respond to a request for additional comment on the raid. But a U.S. military officer in Mosul said the operation would help secure Ninevah province, where al-Qaida and other insurgents have regrouped after losing ground in Baghdad and other major cities.

“It is the Iraqi police restoring security through targeting foreign fighters and demonstrating their proficiency and building their legitimacy in the eyes of the Iraqi people,” said Lt. Col. Robert Molinari, operations officer for the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment.

As U.S. and Iraqi forces approached the camp, insurgent fighters blasted their trucks with rifles and heavy machine-gun fire, killing three Iraqis and wounding three others, the U.S. military said.

U.S. and Iraqi forces killed nine insurgent fighters during the ensuing gunbattle. Three Iraqi civilians were wounded and treated at the scene. U.S. and Iraqi forces detained eight suspected insurgents for further questioning.

They sent two of the wounded fighters to a military hospital for further treatment, along with the three wounded Iraqi policemen, the U.S. military said.

U.S. and Iraqi forces found bomb components, a PKC heavy machine gun and RPG-7 rocket launcher, four AK-47 rifles, nine grenades, more than 1,500 rounds of ammunition and a Belgian land mine, the military said.

According to U.S. forces in Mosul, the Tal Afar Special Weapons and Tactics Team is a 100-person police unit formed in 2004. It receives training and equipment from U.S. Army Special Forces and falls under the control of the Ninevah provincial police chief.

Tal Afar is about 30 miles west of Mosul and about 260 miles northwest of Baghdad. It is a predominately Iraqi Turkmen city of about 420,000 people.

U.S. forces waged fierce battles against insurgents in the city in 2004 and 2005. After those battles, Tal Afar was heralded as one of the first successful examples of U.S. counterinsurgency efforts in Iraq.

But sporadic attacks have continued, and al-Qaida and other insurgent groups continue to operate there. A truck bomb last March in Tal Afar killed more than 100 people. U.S. officials blamed al-Qaida for the attack.

While U.S. and Iraqi forces have successfully routed al-Qaida from other areas of Iraq, they are still fighting to regain control of Ninevah province. Mosul, northern Iraq’s biggest city, remains an important base for insurgents.

However, Col. Michael A. Bills, commander of 3rd ACR, which has security responsibility for Ninevah province, recently told Stars and Stripes that he believes U.S. and Iraqi forces will have largely cleared militant fighters from the city by the end of July.

In a separate operation announced Thursday, U.S. forces said they captured an al-Qaida cell leader in northeast Mosul. His group is allegedly responsible for numerous attacks against U.S. and Iraqi forces and is suspected of making car bombs. The man was detained without incident after he identified himself to U.S. forces during an operation, the military said.

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