Roadside bombs kill 5 U.S. soldiers in Iraq
BAGHDAD – Roadside bombs killed five U.S. soldiers in Iraq Sunday, including four in a single strike in a volatile province northeast of the capital, the military said.In Baghdad, gunmen on rooftops opened fire on Iraqi soldiers, prompting fierce fighting in the narrow streets and alleys of one of the capital’s oldest neighborhoods, a Sunni insurgent stronghold and a haven for criminals on the east side of the Tigris River. At least two civilians were killed and four others were wounded in the clashes, police said, as U.S. attack helicopters buzzed overhead.Four U.S. soldiers were killed and two others were wounded, according to a statement, when an explosion struck their patrol in Diyala province, a religiously mixed area that has seen fierce fighting in recent months.A roadside bomb also killed a soldier and wounded two others as they were checking for bombs on a road in northwestern Baghdad, the military said.Thousands of U.S. reinforcements have been sent to the capital and surrounding areas to help the Iraqis tame the spiraling sectarian violence that flared after the bombing of a Shiite mosque in Samarra more than a year ago.Sunday’s deaths raise to at least 3,239 the members of the U.S. military who have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003 – 114 of those since the security operation started on Feb. 14, according to an Associated Press count. In comparison, 123 U.S. troops deaths were reported in the 40 days preceding the start of the plan.The clashes between gunmen and Iraqi soldiers in Baghdad’s Fadhil neighborhood started about 1:30 p.m. when an attack on Iraqi army positions forced soldiers to call for U.S. assistance, Iraqi officials said. The U.S. military said it had no immediate reports about the fighting.An Iraqi army colonel from the brigade in charge of the area said the gunmen were firing at army checkpoints and patrols from rooftops and the soldiers returned fire. He said the situation had largely calmed by late afternoon, but sporadic clashes continued.”The soldiers raided some houses believed to be used by the gunmen today. Several suspects were arrested and they are being interrogated,” the colonel said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.The military sealed off all roads leading to the area, causing traffic jams, according to witnesses and police. Stores closed their doors as the streets emptied of people fleeing the fighting.”The gunmen were shooting at every moving object. The streets were deserted and all shops closed,” said Ghaith Jassim, the 37-year-old owner of a textile store in the area. “These frequent clashes have affected our work. We cannot earn our living. People and traders are afraid of coming to our area.”Jassim said the arrival of U.S. troops in the area briefly stopped the clashes but the fighting resumed when the Americans left.Fadhil, one of Baghdad’s oldest and poorest areas, is ridden with Sunni insurgents and common criminals and its narrow streets and alleys have been the site of frequent clashes.A helicopter owned by the private security company Blackwater USA crashed in heavy gunfire in the area on Jan. 23, killing four civilian contractors. A fifth contractor in a second helicopter died of gunshot wounds.The U.S. military, meanwhile, raised the death toll in a suicide truck bombing against a police station in Baghdad on Saturday to 33 police officers, saying 20 other policemen and 24 civilians were wounded. Iraqi police said 20 people were killed in the strike, which was the deadliest of a series of suicide bombings nationwide.The new toll would raise to 87 the number of people killed or found dead in Iraq on Saturday – 60 in suicide bombings.Suspected Shiite militants attacked a Sunni mosque on Sunday in apparent retaliation for one of those attacks – a suicide truck bombing against a Shiite mosque that killed 11 people in Haswa, 30 miles south of Baghdad.The explosion on Sunday blew a hole in the roof of the mosque’s minaret but caused no injuries, although two people were wounded after clashes erupted in the area following the blast. Local authorities imposed a curfew after gunmen opened fire on a funeral procession for the victims killed in Saturday’s blast, raising fresh concerns about sectarian violence.The number of execution-style killings in the capital has declined since the operation started on Feb. 14 – a development officials say is due to an agreement keeping Shiite militias off the street. Sunday’s attack in Haswa highlighted concerns that militia factions are angry about being sidelined while the bombings continue.On March 14, U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. William C. Caldwell expressed optimism about the Baghdad security plan, but urged patience and cautioned that “high-profile” car bombings, which rose to a high of 77 in February, could “start the whole cycle of violence again.”The Islamic State in Iraq, an insurgent umbrella group that includes al-Qaida in Iraq, purportedly claimed responsibility for three other suicide bombings Saturday near the Anbar province city of Qaim, near the Syrian border, saying in an Internet statement that 45 policemen were killed and 48 were wounded.The statement could not be independently verified, and police said only six people had been killed, including five policemen, and 19 other people wounded in the three attacks against checkpoints and a police station.At least 31 people were killed or found dead elsewhere in Iraq, including two soldiers who died after a suicide car bomber struck an Iraqi army checkpoint in Baqouba and 22 bullet-riddled bodies of apparent victims of so-called sectarian death squads – most in Baghdad.