BAGHDAD, Iraq – American soldiers clashed Wednesday with Shiite militiamen in two cities south of the capital, killing at least eight of them, U.S. officials said. Mortars and rockets fell on widely scattered areas of the Iraqi capital.
U.S. officials reported no American casualties during engagements in the Shiite holy cities of Karbala (search) and Najaf (search), but the command said one 1st Infantry Division soldier was killed Tuesday during an ambush near Muqdadiyah northeast of Baghdad.
Another 1st ID soldier was electrocuted Tuesday in an accident near Beiji, north of Baghdad. The latest deaths brought to 789 the number of American service members who have died since President Bush launched the Iraq war in March 2003.
U.S. military officials said the eight Shiite gunmen were killed in Karbala, 50 miles south of here, during scattered clashes between coalition forces and militiamen loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr (search).
Most of the fighting took place around the Mukhaiyam mosque (search), which al-Sadr's forces had been using as a base.
In Najaf, about 50 miles south of Karbala, strong explosions could be heard late Wednesday along with the rattle of machine gun fire. Fighters from al-Sadr's al-Mahdi Army (search) were seen on the streets despite a call Tuesday by the premier Shiite leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani (search), for both the Americans and the militia to vacate the city.
Meanwhile, a mortar shell exploded Wednesday about 300 yards from the Baghdad Convention Center, where a court-martial hearing was under way. There were no casualties. Spc. Jeremy C. Sivits pleaded guilty to four counts of prisoner abuse and was sentenced to a year in jail, reduction in rank and a bad conduct discharge.
Bush told an Iraqi newspaper in an interview published Thursday that America intends to get to the bottom of the scandal over mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners so that the "whole world" will know who was responsible.
Bush told the Baghdad daily Azzaman that the torture and sexual humiliation of prisoners "does not reflect the behavior of the United States and the American people."
White House officials said Bush gave the interview Tuesday in Washington. Its publication in Arabic was delayed because of time zone differences. It was posted early Thursday on the newspaper's Web site.
Separately, a group linked to Al Qaeda (search) claimed responsibility for Monday's car bomb assassination of the Iraqi Governing Council (search) president in a statement posted on a militant Islamic Web site.
The head of the Monotheism and Jihad Group is believed to be Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (search), a Jordanian wanted by the United States in connection with numerous terrorist attacks.