Troops and Militiamen Battle in East Baghdad

By Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, April 22, 2008

BAGHDAD, April 21 -- U.S. troops clashed with militiamen in eastern Baghdad on Monday and a bomb attack killed two U.S. soldiers in a northern province, U.S. officials said.

The fighting in eastern Baghdad killed at least nine people and followed prolonged clashes between militia members loyal to Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and U.S.-backed Iraqi forces. Over the weekend, Sadr threatened to launch an "open war" against the Iraqi government. U.S. military officials have said little about the threat and in recent weeks have described the clashes in Baghdad as a fight against "lawbreakers."

Many of the Shiite militiamen in eastern Baghdad describe the conflict differently, saying the Iraqi government, which is run by Shiites of political parties at odds with Sadr's movement, has been targeting the cleric's followers indiscriminately.

The clashes Monday began in the morning, when U.S. soldiers on patrol in New Baghdad, a mostly Shiite neighborhood near Sadr City, were attacked with rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons. U.S. soldiers fired back, killing three "armed criminals," the military said.

Later that morning, men in a four-door sedan opened fire on U.S. soldiers. The soldiers fired back, killing an "unknown number" of criminals, the military said.

Hours later, a U.S. airstrike killed at least two men at a checkpoint in New Baghdad after soldiers posted there took fire. It was one of at least two fatal airstrikes in the neighborhood.

Also Monday, U.S. soldiers aboard an Abrams tank destroyed a truck containing rockets and other weaponry. An "unknown number" of men were killed in that incident, the military said.

Most rockets fired into the Green Zone and other U.S. and Iraqi government facilities in Baghdad are launched from Sadr City and nearby neighborhoods.

Later in the afternoon in Sadr City, U.S. soldiers at an observation post killed at least two men after being shot at, the military said.

"U.S. soldiers will defend ourselves and protect the Iraqi people from attack," Lt. Col. Steve Stover, a U.S. military spokesman, said in an e-mail. "We are not looking for a fight, but will kill or capture those criminals and terrorists who commit acts of violence."

In Diyala province, north of Baghdad, a female suicide bomber detonated explosives inside the home of a group of Sunnis allied with the U.S. military, killing three people, the military said.

The Sunnis were members of the Sons of Iraq, groups that have joined forces with U.S. and Iraqi troops to combat Sunni insurgent groups such as al-Qaeda in Iraq.

"It is both tragic and sad that a young girl was used in this way to attack innocent Iraqi citizens who have dedicated themselves to helping protect their fellow Iraqis," said Maj. Peggy Kageleiry, a U.S. military spokeswoman.

Also on Monday, a cousin of Saddam Hussein known as Chemical Ali was hospitalized after he passed out. Ali Hassan Majeed, who has been sentenced to death, recently went on a hunger strike, his lawyer told the Associated Press.

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