us iraq 224.88.
(photo credit: AP)
US and Iraqi troops backed by helicopters killed three civilians in the Shiite slum of Sadr City on Monday in a pre-dawn raid on the home of a suspected militia leader, police and residents said.
Ground forces searched four houses but failed to find the suspect, US spokesman Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl said. He identified the suspect only as "a criminal militia special group commander," a term associated with splinter factions of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army.
Meanwhile, a bomb blew up around noon near the Shiite Buratha mosque in northern Baghdad, killing two civilians and wounding five others, police said.
The US command also announced that a US soldier, whose patrol in the Kirkuk area was hit with rockets on Sunday, had died from injuries sustained in the attack. Further details were not immediately available.
The fighting came as the US ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, and top US commander Gen. David Petraeus were preparing to deliver reports on Iraq's progress amid a debate over calls to start bringing American troops home.
The two were widely expected to point to recent decreases in violent attacks in Baghdad as evidence this year's troop buildup has been working, and as proof that the strategy merits more time. Still, attacks in the capital have picked up in recent days in the run-up to the report and as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan nears, a time when violence usually spikes higher.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was going before parliament Monday to give his own assessment of the security situation in Iraq.
Despite intense US pressure to move ahead with 18 benchmark laws - including one that will allow for the reintegration of members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party into political life and another on oil revenue sharing - none have yet been taken up by parliament for discussion.
The so-called de-Baathification draft law was finally presented by al-Maliki's Cabinet to parliament on Monday, and the legislature scheduled discussion to begin on it next week, said Wissam al-Zubaidi, an adviser to deputy parliament speaker Khaled al-Attiyah.
In the US raid on Sadr City, troops came under fire while moving into the search area and as they departed and fired back, Bleichwehl said.
Al-Sadr late last month declared a "freeze" on his Mahdi Army's activities so that the militia could regroup, but the US has said breakaway factions over which al-Sadr has no control have continued to fight.
"Coalition forces returned proportional and precise fire on the enemy while being engaged..." Bleichwehl said in an e-mailed response to questions. "The unit sustained no casualties and there are no reports of civilian casualties."
But residents showed Associated Press Television News the coffins of the people they said were killed in the raid - a woman and her two daughters. Residents lifted the blanket from inside one of the simple wood coffins to show the bodies of two little girls lying next to each other.
A police officer, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons, confirmed the woman and two girls were killed in the firefight.
"Neither the government protects us nor does Bush defend us," lamented resident Abu Ali. "What shall we do?"
In the Sunni city of Samarra, 95 kilometers north of Baghdad, US and Iraqi troops got into a fierce firefight with suspected al-Qaida in Iraq fighters in a morning assault. Twelve of the insurgents were killed and three US soldiers were wounded, the military said in a statement.
US and Iraqi forces came under heavy from insurgents inside buildings while clearing the area, the military said.
The ground forces returned fire, while AH-64 Apache helicopters provided support from the air.
Three al-Qaida suspects were also detained, while a fourth person at the scene was identified as a hostage being held for ransom.
The injured soldiers were taken to Balad Air Base for treatment and were all in stable condition, the US military said.