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Iraqi Sunnis Battle To Defend Shiites

Masked men distributed leaflets that declared the city's tribes would fight "Zarqawi's attempt to turn Ramadi into a second Fallujah," referring to the nearby city that U.S. forces wrested from insurgent control in November. Statements posted on walls declared in the name of the Iraqi-led Mohammed's Army group that "Zarqawi has lost his direction" and strayed "from the line of true resistance against the occupation."

A grateful Shiite resident of Ramadi said he was not surprised at the threats by Zarqawi's followers or the defiance of them. "So many ties of friendship, marriage and compassion" bind Shiites and Sunnis in Ramadi, said Ali Hussein Lifta, a 50-year-old air-conditioning repairman and a resident of Tameem.

"We have become in fact part of the population here, and this we are going to convey to the rest of Iraq and to those who want to instill division between Sunnis and Shiites," Lifta said. "We are happy to know that the ties with the Sunnis have become so strong that the Zarqawis and their terrorism cannot affect them.''

Separately Saturday, Zarqawi's movement posted statements in Ramadi pledging to kill Sunni clerics in the west for urging Sunnis to take part in the country's next elections.

"We, al Qaeda in Iraq, announce that we will apply the religious punishment for apostasy upon whoever calls for creation of the constitution. You, preacher at the podium of prophecy, be a speaker of truth, doer of good and rallier for the rule of sharia," or Islamic law, the statement said.

Similar threats led the majority of Iraq's Sunni voters to boycott elections in January, weakening their position when the country's factions began crafting a constitution.

If the draft constitution is finished by Monday as scheduled, and Iraqis agree in an Oct. 15 vote to adopt it, Iraq will hold elections Dec. 15 for its first full-term government since Hussein was toppled.

Missing the deadline would risk greatly aggravating political instability and violence that have claimed thousands of Iraqi and American lives since the elections.

Existing law requires the current government to dissolve if the deadline is not met, opening the way for the election of a new government, which would take another try at writing a constitution.

Around the country on Saturday, bombings and ambushes killed at least 12 Iraqis and wounded more than a dozen, according to the Associated Press and the Reuters news agency.

Late Saturday, the military announced the deaths of five U.S. soldiers, three of whom were killed in a roadside bomb attack while on patrol Friday night in the northern town of Tuz. One soldier died when a roadside bomb detonated in Baghdad Saturday. Another was found dead from a gunshot wound in the Iraqi capital, according to an Army statement. On Sunday, one soldier was killed and three wounded by a roadside bombing in the western town of Ruteah.

Also in Baghdad, a U.S. Bradley Fighting Vehicle was left burning in the Sadr City district, Reuters reported. The U.S. military said the armored personnel carrier was set on fire by a roadside bomb, but there were no reports of American casualties. Local police said an Iraqi civilian was killed in the explosion.

Special correspondents Omar Fekeiki and Naseer Nouri contributed to this report.

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