BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraqi police and soldiers rounded up nearly 60 people Friday in security crackdowns in Baghdad and the southern city of Basra, and the U.S. military reported the death of an American soldier in a bombing.
At least 22 people were detained and weapons were seized in raids launched before dawn Friday in Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, the Iraqi army said.
An additional 37 people -- including five Palestinians and a Syrian -- were arrested in pre-dawn raids in Baghdad's Dora district, the Interior Ministry said. The neighborhood is a mostly Sunni Arab area and has been the scene of frequent bombings, ambushes and assassinations.
Sunni Arab politicians have complained that raids by the Shiite-led Interior Ministry have enflamed sectarian tensions as politicians seek to form a new government that will include all communities and calm the Sunni-led insurgency. Shiite officials counter that Sunni militants have killed many police and soldiers.
The U.S. command said Friday that an American soldier was killed the previous evening in a roadside bombing north of the capital. It was the sixth American military fatality this month and brought to 2,248 the number of U.S. service members to have died since the Iraq war began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
A British soldier was killed Thursday in a traffic accident in southern Iraq.
Thousands of Iraqis protested publication of caricatures of Islam's Prophet Muhammad. The caricatures, first published in Denmark and printed elsewhere in a demonstration of press freedom, have enraged many Muslims and prompted calls to boycott products from Denmark and other countries whose media reprint the pictures.
However, Iraq's leading Shiite cleric suggested that Islamic extremists responsible for suicide attacks and terrorism were partly responsible for tarnishing the image of Islam.
"We strongly denounce and condemn" the caricatures, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani said in a statement on his Web site. But he also referred to "misguided and oppressive" elements within the Muslim community whose actions "projected a distorted and dark image of the faith of justice, love and brotherhood."
"Enemies have exploited this ...to spread their poison and revive their old hatreds with new methods and mechanisms," al-Sistani said.
Also Friday, German officials appealed to the kidnappers of two German engineers to free them and make contact to begin negotiations. In a tape aired Tuesday by Al-Jazeera television, the kidnappers threatened to kill the captives unless Germany cut off all links to Iraq within 72 hours.
In a statement broadcast by Al-Jazeera, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier urged the kidnappers to release Thomas Nitschke and Rene Braeunlich. They were seized Jan. 24 in Beiji, 155 miles north of Baghdad.
"We regret that we still haven't been able to establish contact with the kidnappers," he said.
At least five foreigners were kidnapped last month in Iraq: the Germans, two Kenyan engineers and American journalist Jill Carroll.
Carroll's kidnappers have threatened to kill her unless all Iraqi women are freed from custody. The U.S. military released five Iraqi women Jan. 26 but said the move was unrelated to the kidnappers' demand.