U.S. Troops Battle Suspected Militiamen

The Associated Press
Friday, September 7, 2007; 2:49 AM

BAGHDAD -- U.S. and Iraqi troops backed by attack aircraft clashed with suspected Shiite militiamen before dawn Thursday in Baghdad, bombing houses and battling more than a dozen snipers on rooftops. Residents and police said at least 14 people were killed.

The fighting occurred in a Mahdi Army stronghold of anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who had ordered his militia not to carry out any more attacks for up to six months. The U.S. military stressed the raid targeted breakaway factions that remain violent partly as a way of bullying minority Sunnis out of Baghdad.

The clashes reinforced the obstacles to U.S. goals posed by the increasingly volatile Shiite militias amid signs that infighting within Iraq's dominant religious sect is on the rise, just days before a key progress report in Washington on the war.

"The Iraqi parties are quarreling over power and the people are dying," said a middle-aged man, standing next to a hole in his roof and waving a piece of shrapnel he found after Thursday's raid. "We are fed up," he told Associated Press Television News.

Video from APTN showed houses with their roofs caved in, and others completely destroyed.

U.S. troops also targeted Sunni militants linked to al-Qaida in Iraq in several raids north of Baghdad on Thursday, killing six suspected insurgents and detaining 25, the military said.

Meanwhile, three U.S. soldiers were killed in northern Iraq when a bomb exploded near their vehicle Thursday, the U.S. command said Friday.

The number of U.S. troops in Iraq has climbed to a record high of 168,000, and is moving toward a peak of 172,000 in the coming weeks _ a level that could extend into December, a senior military official said Thursday.

Maj. Gen. Richard Sherlock, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the increase is the result of troops rotations, as several brigades overlap while they move in and out of the war zone. Previously officials had predicted the number could go up to about 171,000.

Bombings, shootings and mortar attacks left at least 28 Iraqis dead nationwide, including 18 bullet-riddled bodies that turned up in Baghdad and south of the capital _ apparent victims of so-called sectarian death squads usually run by militia fighters.

After a period of relative calm, recent days have seen an uptick in violence.

The Iraqi government, meanwhile, called a critical independent U.S. assessment of its security posture unacceptable interference in its affairs.

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