- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 10, 2007

BAGHDAD — A raging, daylong battle erupted in central Baghdad yesterday, and four Iraqi soldiers were killed, 16 U.S. soldiers wounded and a U.S. helicopter was hit by ground fire at the close of the second month of the massive security crackdown on the capital.

Sixty miles to the north, in the mostly Sunni city of Muqdadiyah, a woman with a suicide vest strapped beneath her black Muslim robe blew herself up in the midst of 200 Iraqi police recruits. The attack killed at least 16 men who were waiting to learn whether they had been hired.

The security crackdown, which began Feb. 14 and will see nearly 170,000 U.S. troops in Iraq by the end of May, has curbed some sectarian attacks and assassinations in the capital. But violence continues to flare periodically in Baghdad and has risen markedly in nearby cities and towns.

The fierce fighting in central Baghdad shut down the Sunni-dominated Fadhil and Sheik Omar neighborhoods just after 7 a.m., the U.S. military said. After U.S. and Iraqi troops came under fire during a routine search operation, helicopter gunships swooped in, engaging insurgents with machine gun fire.

Some Arab television stations reported that a U.S. helicopter was shot down in the fight and showed video of a charred piece of mechanical wreckage that was impossible to identify. The U.S. military said late yesterday that an attack helicopter was damaged by small-arms fire and returned to base.

Several blocks from the battle, a rocket slammed into a schoolyard basketball court, killing a 6-year-old boy. Police said a stray Katyusha rocket slammed into the asphalt playground, wounding at least 17 — 15 students and two teachers.

The resumption of violence was in stunning contrast to Monday, when a 24-hour driving ban left the capital eerily quiet on the fourth anniversary of its capture by U.S. forces.

But just hours after the ban was lifted before dawn yesterday, artillery fire echoed across the city. By day’s end, at least 52 persons were killed or found dead nationwide in strife confined mainly to Sunni enclaves.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is visiting Japan, rejected an immediate U.S. troop withdrawal, as called for Monday by his fellow Shi’ites in a huge demonstration in the holy cities of Kufa and Najaf. The demonstrations were ordered by radical Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose political support put Mr. al-Maliki in office.

“We see no need for a withdrawal timetable. We are working as fast as we can,” Mr. al-Maliki told reporters during his four-day trip to Japan.

“To demand the departure of the troops is a democratic right and a right we respect. What governs the departure at the end of the day is how confident we are in the handover process,” he said, saying that “achievements on the ground” would dictate how long U.S. troops remain.

The U.S. military announced the deaths of four more soldiers — three killed by a roadside bomb and secondary explosion in southeastern Baghdad and a fourth in combat in Iraq’s western Anbar province. All were killed Monday.

In Muqdadiyah, most of the victims had taken police exams just days earlier and were assembled to learn the results, police said.

At a checkpoint near Baghdad University, six civilians were killed when a taxi car bomb exploded.


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