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U.S. Troops Kill 8 During Baghdad Fight

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The Associated Press
Friday, August 24, 2007; 4:28 PM

BAGHDAD -- U.S. helicopters blasted rooftops in a Shiite neighborhood before dawn Friday as American troops battled gunmen on the ground, killing at least eight by the military's count. Shiites claimed some civilians died and radicals castigated Iraq's government as being too weak to rein in the Americans.

The criticism put new pressure on the Shiite prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, who already was under fire from U.S. critics over his government's failure to achieve national unity.

Elsewhere, an explosion killed one American soldier and wounded four in Salahuddin province, a mostly Sunni Arab area north of the capital. The blast came hours after suspected al-Qaida in Iraq fighters attacked police stations in Samarra, a city in the province about 60 miles north of Baghdad. A policeman, a woman and an 11-year-old girl were reported killed.

The U.S. military said the battle in Baghdad erupted when a U.S. Army patrol came under fire shortly after midnight from gunmen on rooftops in Shula, a rundown Shiite neighborhood that is a stronghold of the Mahdi Army militia of anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Troops called in attack helicopters, which raked the rooftops with automatic weapons fire, a U.S. spokesman, Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl, said.

During the battle, U.S. helicopters from the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade also fired on about a dozen armed militiamen "moving toward coalition forces" in Shula, the military said in a statement.

The military first reported eight dead, then raised the figure to 18, but later returned to the lower figure, explaining that the changes were due to confusion on the battlefield.

Bleichwehl said all the dead had been "identified as hostile" and there was "no collateral damage," the U.S. term for civilian casualties.

But Iraqi police and hospital officials said the dead included a woman and a young boy. Sixteen other people were wounded, including four women and three boys in their early teens who had been sleeping on the roofs to escape the summer heat, an official at Noor Hospital in Shula said.

The Iraqi officials all spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release such information.

In Najaf, the leader of the pro-Sadr bloc in parliament, Nasser al-Rubaie, claimed 21 civilians were killed in Shula. He blamed al-Maliki's government, saying it is "weak and can do nothing in the face of the occupation."

Although al-Rubaie's figures appeared exaggerated, U.S. attacks in Shiite neighborhoods are troublesome for al-Maliki because they fuel hostility toward his American backers within the Shiite community _ the prime minister's power base.

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