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Coalition Staff Flees Nasiriyah; Three Staffers Gunned Down

Gunmen fired on a minibus in Baghdad (search) on Sunday, killing two Iraqi women who were working for the U.S.-led coalition, and assailants in a southern city killed a translator for the coalition and critically injured another in attacks on their houses, police and witnesses said.

Scattered clashes broke out Sunday in the southern city of Nasiriyah (search) between Muqtada al-Sadr's (searchforces and Italian troops at a bridge across the Euphrates river, residents and Italian media said. Two al-Sadr militiamen were killed Sunday, according to local resident, Ghaith Majeed.

The killings were part of a rebel strategy to deter cooperation between Iraqis and the coalition, which plans to hand over sovereignty on June 30. There was also scattered violence across Iraq's Shiite southern heartland between coalition troops and armed supporters of al-Sadr.

A bomb exploded Saturday in front of the home of a translator for the Americans in Kut, 80 miles southeast of Baghdad, but caused no casualties, police said.

In Basra, assailants fired a mortar shell that landed on a house near a British military base, killing four Iraqi civilians, including 2-year-old female twins, witnesses said. Four people were injured. All victims were from the same family.

In Nasiriyah, most civilian staffers of the coalition were evacuated from their headquarters because of growing threats from fighters loyal to al-Sadr, the radical cleric who launched an uprising against the occupation last month and faces an arrest warrant in the murder of a rival moderate cleric last year.

A coalition official, Andrea Angeli, said Sunday that only two civilians remained in the coalition headquarters, which was attacked Friday by al-Sadr militiamen who were pushed back by Italian forces.

The rest of the 10-member staff was evacuated Saturday afternoon to the coalition military base six miles out of town, said Angeli, who was among those evacuated.

On Nov. 12, a homicide truck bomb attack on Italian forces in Nasiriyah killed 19 Italians — the nation's single worst military loss since World War II.

The attackers who fired on the bus in Baghdad also detonated explosives in it, killing the driver and injuring another woman. Lt. Ali Omran of al-Dora police station said the attacked women were working for the Americans, but he did not specify their jobs.

Early Sunday, a female Iraqi translator working with U.S. troops was killed and another was critically injured when gunmen broke into their houses in Mahmoudiyah, said Dawood al-Taee, director of the city's hospital.

Al-Sadr's fighters opened fire Saturday night on U.S. soldiers at a police station in Sadr City, a Baghdad neighborhood that is one of the cleric's strongholds. Two militiamen were killed in the skirmish, witnesses said.

The coalition is trying to disband the cleric's army and sideline its radical leadership before handing power to a new Iraqi government. American forces and al-Sadr fighters fought heavy battles in recent days in the southern holy cities of Najaf and Karbala, though both cities were relatively quiet Sunday.

Apparent gunfire slightly damaged one of Shia Islam's holiest shrines in Najaf in fighting on Friday, prompting calls for revenge and even homicide attacks against the coalition.

On Sunday, Iran's supreme leader accused the United States of damaging the shrine and called U.S. actions "shameless" and "foolish."

"Muslims can't tolerate the shameless incursion of American forces into sacred places," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was quoted as saying by the official Islamic Republic News Agency.

The U.S. military has said al-Sadr's al-Mahdi Army was probably responsible.

An explosion in the southern city of Samawah killed at least one Iraqi security force member over the weekend, and there was also shooting in an area of the city where armed al-Sadr supporters had gathered, Japan's Kyodo News reported.

Two mortar shells were fired at Dutch soldiers guarding the provincial governor's building in Samawah, Kyodo said. There was no report of damage or casualties at the Japanese base in the city.

Mohammed Rahim, an ambulance driver in southern Amarah, said British authorities on Saturday asked the city hospital to send ambulances to a British base to pick up bodies of al-Sadr fighters slain a day earlier.

Ambulances took 21 bodies, and British troops told hospital officials they would later hand over another seven bodies, Rahim said.

At the hospital, a bodyguard of the Amarah governor, Riyadh Mahoud, shot and killed a police chief accused by the governor of encouraging people to attack coalition forces, witnesses said.

Mahoud and the police chief from al-Majar al-Kabir town, Maj. Mohammed Abdel-Hassan, had been arguing over where the bodies should be sent. The police chief said the bodies were from his town and should be taken there directly.