By Alister Bull
BAQUBA, Iraq (Reuters) - U.S. and Iraqi forces say they have killed 90 al Qaeda fighters around Baghdad during one of the biggest combined offensives against the Sunni Islamist group since the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Seven U.S. soldiers were killed in roadside bomb attacks in and around the capital on Saturday, underscoring a warning from military commanders that U.S. casualties are likely to mount as more troops are put in harm's way.
U.S. air strikes on Saturday killed seven suspected al Qaeda fighters in Tikrit in Salahuddin province and near the city of Falluja, west of Baghdad, the U.S. military said in a statement.
Thousands of U.S. and Iraqi soldiers are taking part in simultaneous offensives in provinces around Baghdad to deny al Qaeda militants sanctuary in farmlands and towns from where they launch car bomb attacks and other violence.
In the capital, Iraq's parliament voted to cut its summer vacation by a month to focus on passing laws Washington views as crucial to healing Iraq's deep sectarian divide. Lawmakers said the current session would be extended until the end of July.
The move is likely to be welcomed by U.S. President George W. Bush, although the bills have yet to be presented to parliament for debate.
The laws include those on sharing revenues from Iraq's huge oil reserves more equitably, holding provincial elections and allowing former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party to return to the government and military.
The U.S. military said on Saturday that 55 al Qaeda militants had been killed in Operation Arrowhead Ripper, a key plank of the combined offensives, which began in and around the city of Baquba in Diyala province on Tuesday.
Another 28 militants have been killed in separate operations in the past several days in Diyala, north of Baghdad, the U.S. military has said. U.S. officials say al Qaeda is trying to spark all-out sectarian civil war in Iraq.
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