WORLD / Middle East

2 US GIs, 12 Iraqis killed
Updated: 2006-07-23 08:34

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Two American soldiers were killed Saturday in Baghdad, seven Shiite construction workers were gunned down and five Sunni civilians were blown up, deepening the capital's security crisis. Shiite politicians called on the prime minister to cancel his visit to Washington to protest Israel's attacks in Lebanon.

U.S. troops secure the site of multiple bomb explosions, Saturday, July 22, 2006, in east Baghdad, Iraq. U.S. and Iraqi troops sealed off an area of east Baghdad following the blasts and systematically searched homes and shops looking for weapons. [AP]

Elsewhere, US and Iraqi forces backed by a helicopter gunship launched a major attack Saturday on a headquarters of a radical Shiite militia south of Baghdad, killing 15 militiamen in a three-hour battle, the US said.

One US soldier died in the second of two roadside bombs that exploded in east Baghdad at mid-morning. An Iraqi civilian was killed by the first blast, police said. Another American soldier died Saturday evening when gunmen attacked his patrol with small arms fire, the military said.

The seven Shiite workers were killed and two were wounded when gunmen opened fire on a construction site near Baghdad International Airport, police said. Later Saturday, a mortar shell killed five civilians at a market in the mostly Sunni neighborhood of Amil in west Baghdad, police said.

Two rockets also blasted the heavily guarded Green Zone, which includes the U.S. and British embassies as well as major Iraqi government offices, but the U.S. military said there were no casualties.

Much of the violence appeared to be part of the tit-for-tat reprisal killings by Sunni and Shiite extremists which have led to a dramatic deterioration of security in the Iraqi capital.

With violence rising, the United States is moving to bolster American troop strength in the Baghdad area, putting on hold plans to draw down on the 127,000-member U.S. military mission in Iraq.

U.S. officials have pointed to Shiite militias as a major cause of sectarian violence. In a bid to curb militia influence, American troops moved Saturday against the Mahdi Army of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in Musayyib, 40 miles south of Baghdad.

US troops reported killing 15 gunmen in a three-hour firefight in Musayyib but described them only as "thugs and criminals" who had tried to take over the city. Sheik Jalil al-Nouri, an aide to al-Sadr, said U.S. and Iraqi forces attacked the Mahdi Army office in Mussayib and that sporadic shooting was still underway late Saturday.

Local officials said the Americans conducted a similar raid on al-Sadr's office in Mahmoudiya, about 20 miles south of Baghdad and scene of an attack five days ago in which 50 people were killed.

In London, the British military announced Saturday that British troops arrested the Mahdi Army commander in Basra in raids last weekend against militia weapons depots.

With violence rising, the United States is moving to bolster American troop strength in the Baghdad area, putting on hold plans to draw down on the 127,000-member US military mission in Iraq.

The security crisis in Baghdad is expected to figure prominently when Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki meets President George W. Bush at the White House on Tuesday. US officials are expected to push al-Maliki, a Shiite, to move quickly to calm sectarian tensions and abolish Shiite militias blamed for much of the violence.

But the visit comes amid rising anger among Iraqis over Israel's attacks in Lebanon, launched after Shiite Hezbollah militiamen seized two Israeli soldiers.

On Saturday, the Fadhila party, which is part of al-Maliki's Shiite alliance, urged the prime minister to call off his visit.
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