- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 23, 2006

BAGHDAD — Two American soldiers were killed yesterday in Baghdad, seven Shi’ite construction workers were gunned down and five Sunni civilians blown up, deepening the capital’s security crisis.

Shi’ite politicians called on the prime minister to cancel his visit to Washington to protest Israel’s attacks in Lebanon.

Elsewhere, U.S. and Iraqi forces backed by a helicopter gunship began a major attack yesterday on a headquarters of a radical Shi’ite militia south of Baghdad, killing 15 militiamen in a three-hour battle, the U.S. said.

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

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

Two rockets 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 Shi’ite extremists that 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 Shi’ite militias as a major cause of sectarian violence. In a bid to curb militia influence, American troops moved yesterday against the Mahdi Army of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in Musayyib, 40 miles south of Baghdad.

U.S. troops reported killing 15 gunmen in a three-hour firefight in Musayyib but described them as only “thugs and criminals” who had tried to take over the city.

The security crisis in Baghdad is expected to figure prominently when Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki meets President Bush at the White House on Tuesday.

The Fadhila party, which is part of Mr. al-Maliki’s Shi’ite alliance, yesterday urged the prime minister to call off his visit to protest Israeli military action in Lebanon.

Mr. al-Maliki, a former Shi’ite activist who spent years in exile in Syria, has condemned Israel’s offensive. He told reporters yesterday that he would convey that message personally to Mr. Bush.

“The hostile acts against Lebanon will have effects on the region and we are not far from what is going on in Lebanon,” Mr. al-Maliki said. “We will speak with the United Nations and American government to call for a cease-fire quickly.”

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