US soldier funeral .
(photo credit: AP)
Three US soldiers and an Iraqi woman translator were killed Saturday in separate incidents, as the country's largest Sunni party appealed to authorities to end the siege of Sunni villages northeast of Baghdad.
The three Americans were assigned to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force and died in fighting in the western province of Anbar, the US military said in a statement.
They were the first US fatalities reported in Iraq since Tuesday and only the eighth so far this month. The average of one death a day is down sharply from a rate of more than two a day in recent months.
Iraqi police said the translator, whose name was not released, was killed in a drive-by shooting in southwestern Baghdad. She worked as an interpreter for the Americans but was off-duty at the time of the shooting, police Capt. Maithem Abdul-Razaq said.
Interpreters and others working for the Americans have long been targeted by insurgents for "collaborating" with "occupation forces."
In a statement Saturday, the Iraqi Islamic Party said US and Iraqi troops had surrounded 15 mostly Sunni villages in near Muqdadiyah, about 90 kilometers (60 miles) northeast of Baghdad, making it difficult for civilians to move in the area.
The statement called on Iraqi and US forces to allow food and medicine to enter the villages and compensate farmers for damage to their crops.
Last week, the Iraqi military announced operations in the Muqdadiyah area after an increase in insurgent activity there. The mostly agricultural area sits astride a major highway between Baghdad and Kurdish areas to the north and is located in a province where tensions between Shiites and Sunnis are running high.
The Iraqi Islamic Party is headed by one of Iraq's two vice presidents, Tariq al-Hashimi, who the Americans are hoping can convince disaffected fellow Sunnis to abandon the insurgency and participate in political life so the US can begin withdrawing its troops.
Also Saturday, two influential US senators said they were assured by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that his new government will reach out to Sunni Arabs and crack down on Shiite militias believed responsible for much of the sectarian violence.
One of them, Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, said al-Maliki told them in a meeting Saturday that it is "feasible" to redeploy a small portion of US troops "perhaps this year" because of the more Iraqi soldiers have been trained and sent into the fight.
Sen. Joseph Biden, who visited Iraq with Reed, said the new prime minister "appears to be prepared to take concerted action against militias" and to encourage insurgents "who have not committed serious crimes against humanity" to join political life.
But the two senators sounded less certain when they spoke later with Washington reporters during a conference call from Amman, Jordan, after leaving Iraq.
"I'm not sure how much running room he has. I'm not even sure how much running room he wants," Biden said of al-Maliki.
Reed said it was time for the United States "to show the Iraqi forces that they have to do the job and to confirm the fact that they have made progress."
"The feeling is, as long as we're there to be the fail-safe, they won't take the initiative," he said.
The new government, which took office in May, still faces a formidable task if it is to calm sectarian tensions, cut a deal to end the insurgency and restore stability to this fractured nation.
As a sign of sectarian hatred, a mortar barrage struck homes in a Shiite area in the religiously mixed area of Dora in Baghdad, killing four people and wounding six, Capt. Firas Queti said.
Gunmen opened fire earlier Saturday on a Shiite family trying to leave Dora for the Shiite city of Karbala. Police said five family members were wounded in the attack.
Also in Dora, gunmen in two cars stopped a vehicle on a city street, forced the two passengers to disembark and killed them in front of horrified bystanders, according to police.
Elsewhere, gunmen Saturday killed three people working in an ice cream shop in the mostly Shiite Baghdad neighborhood of Nahrawan, police Lt. Fikrat Mohammed said.
Three mortar shells exploded in a mostly Shiite area of southern Baghdad, killing three people and wounding three children, police said.
Police also reported finding four bodies Saturday in separate locations in eastern and western Baghdad. They were believed the latest victims of sectarian death squads.
A car bomb also exploded in a garage near a Shiite mosque in western Baghdad, killing two people and wounding nine, police said. The mosque was slightly damaged.
Meanwhile, gunmen in two speeding car opened fire Saturday on a Sunni mosque in west Baghdad's Ghazaliya neighborhood. Mosque guards returned fire and the attackers fled, police Capt. Jamil Hussein said.
The incidents occurred a day after at least 17 others died in a wave of bombings and mortar attacks against mostly Sunni mosques in the Baghdad area and northern Iraq. A Sunni cleric was also kidnapped in the capital, a Sunni official said.
Sectarian violence has forced thousands of Iraqis to move to different neighborhoods or cities where their sect is predominant. The Interior Ministry estimated earlier this month that nearly 4,000 families - or about 23,670 people - have been forced to relocate to other neighborhoods in the Baghdad area alone.