- The Washington Times - Friday, June 23, 2006

BAGHDAD (AP) — The Iraqi government declared a state of emergency and imposed a curfew today after insurgents set up roadblocks in central Baghdad and opened fire on U.S. and Iraqi troops outside the heavily fortified Green Zone.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered everyone off the streets of the capital from 2 p.m. until 5 p.m.

U.S. and Iraqi forces also fought gunmen in the volatile Dora neighborhood in southern Baghdad.

Two U.S. soldiers were killed when a roadside bomb struck their vehicle southeast of the capital, the U.S. military said.

The military also said that two Marines died in combat in volatile Anbar province in separate attacks on Wednesday and Thursday and that a soldier died elsewhere in a noncombat incident on Wednesday.

At least 2,517 members of the U.S. military have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

A car bomb ripped through a market and nearby gas station in the increasingly violent southern city of Basra, killing at least five persons and wounding 18, including two policemen, police said.

A bomb also struck a Sunni mosque in Hibhib, northeast of Baghdad, killing 10 worshippers and wounding 15 in the town where Abu Musab Zarqawi was slain this month, police said.

At least 19 other deaths were reported in Baghdad.

Throughout the morning, Iraqi and U.S. military forces clashed with attackers armed with rocket-propelled grenades, hand grenades and rifles in busy Haifa Street, which runs into the Green Zone, site of the U.S. and British embassies and the Iraqi government.

Four Iraqi soldiers and three policemen were wounded in the fighting, police Lt. Maitham Abdul-Razzaq said.

The region was sealed, and Iraqi and U.S. forces conducted house-to-house searches.

The prime minister’s office said the curfew would last from 2 p.m. today until 6 a.m. tomorrow but later shortened it to end at 5 p.m. today.

The state of emergency includes a ban on carrying weapons and gives Iraqi security forces broader arrest powers, Defense Ministry official Maj. Gen. Abdul-Aziz Mohamed Jassim said.

“The state of emergency and curfew came in the wake of today’s clashes to let the army work freely to chase militants and to avoid casualties among civilians,” he said. “They will punish all those who have weapons with them, and they can shoot them if they feel that they are danger.”

Gunmen also attacked a group of worshippers marching from Sadr City, the Shi’ite slum in eastern Baghdad, to the Buratha mosque on the other side of the city to protest a suicide attack a week ago on the revered Shi’ite shrine. At least one marcher was killed and four were wounded, Lt. Ahmed Mohammed Ali said.

Mr. al-Maliki has been trying to rein in unrelenting insurgent and sectarian violence. He initiated a massive security operation in Baghdad 10 days ago, deploying tens of thousands of troops, who flooded the city, snarling traffic with hundreds of checkpoints.

Police said they found the bodies of five men who apparently were victims of a mass kidnapping from a factory on Wednesday. The bodies, which showed signs of torture and had their hands and legs bound, were floating in a canal in northern Baghdad, police Lt. Abdul-Razzaq said.

A police raid on a farm yesterday freed 17 of the captives.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military said it killed four foreign insurgents in a raid north of Fallujah. Two of the dead men had 15-pound bombs strapped to their bodies. The military said an insurgent thought to be an Iraqi also was killed in the raid, which was launched on the basis of information from a suspect arrested in the region in previous days.

Separately, the military said, it detained a senior leader of al Qaeda in Iraq and three other suspected insurgents Monday during raids northeast of Baghdad, near where Zarqawi was killed in a U.S. air raid earlier this month.

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