- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 24, 2006

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s government clamped a state of emergency on Baghdad and ordered everyone off the streets yesterday after U.S. and Iraqi forces battled insurgents armed with rocket-propelled grenades, hand grenades and rifles near the heavily fortified Green Zone.

The military also announced the deaths of five more U.S. troops in a particularly violent week for American forces that included the discovery of the brutalized bodies of two soldiers. Twelve U.S. service members have died or been found dead this week.

The fierce fighting in the heart of Baghdad came despite a crackdown begun 10 days ago that put tens of thousands of U.S.-backed Iraqi troops on the streets as the new prime minister sought to restore a modicum of safety for the capital’s 6 million people.

Iraqi and U.S. military forces clashed with heavily armed attackers throughout the morning yesterday in the alleys and doorways along Haifa Street and within earshot of the Green Zone, which houses the U.S. and British embassies and Iraqi government headquarters.

Four Iraqi soldiers and three policemen were wounded before the area was sealed and searched house-to-house for insurgent attackers, police said. U.S. and Iraqi forces also engaged in firefights with insurgents in the dangerous Dora neighborhood in south Baghdad.

Deadly clashes are not new to Haifa Street. But yesterday’s fighting was unusual in its scope and intensity, prompting Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to order everyone off all streets in the capital with just two hours’ notice and while Friday prayers were still in progress.

Clusters of women shrouded in black head-to-toe robes scurried along to beat the ban, and U.S. soldiers frisked men dashing home against a backdrop of thick, black smoke rising above the white high-rise buildings of Haifa Street.

The Shi’ite prime minister declared a similar state of emergency in the volatile southern city of Basra at the beginning of June. Yesterday, a car bomb ripped through a market and nearby gas station in the city, killing at least five persons.

A bomb also struck a Sunni mosque in the town of Hibhib northeast of Baghdad, killing 10 worshippers and wounding 15. Al Qaeda chieftain Abu Musab Zarqawi was slain there in a U.S. air strike earlier this month.

At least 19 other deaths were reported in Baghdad. The bodies of five men apparently slain after a mass factory kidnapping Wednesday were among yesterday’s toll.

The U.S. military also reported that two Multi-National Division-Baghdad soldiers were killed yesterday morning when their vehicle struck a roadside bomb southeast of the capital. Earlier in the day, the military said two U.S. Marines were killed during combat in the volatile Anbar province in separate attacks on Wednesday and Thursday, and a soldier died elsewhere in a noncombat incident on Wednesday.

Those death announcements came a day after the military said five other U.S. troops were killed in operations south and west of Baghdad and three days after the bodies of two American soldiers who went missing after an attack on their checkpoint were recovered.

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