Bloodiest Week This Year For US Troops Ends With Bombing

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Associated Press

Bloodiest Week This Year For US Troops Ends With Bombing

by
Robert H Reid

BAGHDAD - A roadside bomb killed an American soldier in Baghdad yesterday, capping the bloodiest week for US troops in Iraq this year. Clashes persisted in Shi'ite areas, even as the biggest Shi'ite militia sought to rein in its fighters.0413 06 1 2

At least 13 Shi'ite militants were killed in the latest clashes in Baghdad's militia stronghold of Sadr City, the US military said. Iraqi police said seven civilians also died in fighting, which erupted Friday night and tapered off yesterday.

The US military said the American soldier was killed in a blast yesterday morning in northwestern Baghdad but did not say whether Shi'ite militiamen were responsible.

The death raised to at least 19 the number of US troops killed in Iraq since last Sunday. American casualties have risen with an outbreak of fighting in Baghdad between US and Iraqi forces and the largest Shi'ite militia - the Mahdi Army of anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

Sadr, who is believed to be in Iran, repeated yesterday his demand for American soldiers to leave the country and urged his fighters not to target fellow Iraqis "unless they are helping the [US] occupation."

Sadr also blamed the Americans and their Iraqi allies for the assassination Friday of one of his top aides, Riyadh al-Nouri, director of his office in the Shi'ite holy city of Najaf. Gunmen ambushed Nouri as he was returning home from Friday prayers

There were signs that Sadr was trying to calm his militia to avoid all-out war with the Americans. Sadr is also under pressure from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, also a Shi'ite, to disband the Mahdi Army or face a ban from politics.

Sadrist officials said they had received orders from their headquarters in Najaf to avoid confrontations with Iraqi and US forces unless the Americans try to move deep into Sadr City, which has been under siege for two weeks.

The officials said the Sadrist leadership was concerned that the ongoing clashes were turning into a war of attrition that was weakening the movement and undermining support within its Shi'ite power base.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not supposed to discuss policy with outsiders.

In a move to bolster its image among Sadr City residents, the government yesterday lifted a ban on entering and leaving the district, home to about 2.5 million people. Police announced that one of the entrances had been opened to motor traffic.

Army patrols warned residents through loudspeakers to keep off the streets, saying the rebels had planted roadside bombs that needed to be cleared by the security forces.

Elsewhere, Iraqi soldiers acting on tips from detained Shi'ite militiamen found 14 bodies that had been buried in a field south of Baghdad, officials said yesterday. It was the second discovery this week of mass graves in the area, raising to 45 the number of bodies located there.

The victims are believed to have been killed more than a year ago as part of a cycle of retaliatory violence between Shi'ites and Sunnis that has since ebbed.

The discovery came two days after the Iraqi troops found the remains of 30 people believed to have been killed more than a year ago buried in three abandoned houses elsewhere in the area.

Mass graves have been turning up with increasing frequency as American and Iraqi military operations clear former militant strongholds, allowing troops to patrol in previous no-go zones.

Recent clashes in the Baghdad area have severely strained a unilateral truce that Sadr imposed on the Mahdi Army in August. He ordered the standdown to allow time to reorganize and purge criminal factions that tarnished the image of his movement.

US officials have acknowledged that Sadr's truce, along with the Sunni Arab revolt against Al Qaeda, had played a major role in reducing American and Iraqi deaths, especially in the Baghdad area.

With renewed Shi'ite militia fighting, Baghdad is now the site accounting for a growing number of American casualties.

Last month, 61 percent of the US military deaths occurred in Baghdad, compared with 28 percent in February and 47 percent in April 2007, according to figures compiled by the Associated Press.

Fighting in Baghdad broke out after last month's ill-prepared Iraqi government offensive against Shi'ite militias and criminal gangs in the southern city of Basra. Although fighting has eased in Basra, US and Iraqi troops have pressed militias in Baghdad's Sadr City to drive them beyond rocket range to the Green Zone.

© 2008 Associated Press

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