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Iraqi Suspects Arrested After Green Zone Attacks

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden in Baghdad

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden in Baghdad

BAGHDAD (Reuters) -- U.S. and Iraqi forces have arrested three Iraqi men suspected of launching rockets on Baghdad's fortified Green Zone district during a trip by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, the U.S. military has said.

Militants pounded the Green Zone with rockets and mortars on September 15 shortly after Biden flew in for talks with Iraqi politicians on reconciliation. A mortar landed on an apartment block, killing two Iraqis and wounding five, police said.

Two others landed near the U.S. Embassy, but there were no further reports of casualties. A press briefing with U.S. ambassador Chris Hill and U.S. military commander General Ray Odierno was repeatedly interrupted by nearby explosions.

A Sunni Arab insurgent group called the Mujahedin Army, which has links to Islamist Al-Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the rocket attacks in a communique issued on jihadist chat rooms, according to a report by the SITE Intelligence Group.

The U.S. military said in a statement its forces, working with soldiers from an Iraqi army division, located the suspected launch site but were fired upon from a nearby house.

"As elements from the joint patrol maneuvered against the small arms fire, a second group captured three Iraqi males and three rocket rails believed to have been used in the attack," the statement said.

Rocket and mortar attacks on the Green Zone, which used to be a more or less daily occurrence 18 months ago, have become relatively rare in recent months.

U.S. and Iraqi officials say better policing and quicker responses to attacks have helped cut violence in Baghdad over that time period.

But incidents like the September 15 salvo and two truck bombs on August 19 that killed 95 people at the foreign and finance ministries underline how fragile those security gains are.

Biden was to meet Iraqi officials on September 16 to urge them to take advantage of better security to make progress on long-standing disputes between Kurdish, Sunni, and Shi'ite communities over land, oil, and power.