BAGHDAD, Iraq – Six U.S. soldiers were killed in Baghdad on Sunday, while an upsurge of violence across the country left 50 Iraqis dead, undercutting the prime minister's claim that government forces are prevailing over insurgents and sectarian extremists.
Four American soldiers died when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb in northern Baghdad, the U.S. military command said Monday. Another roadside bomb killed a U.S. soldier in western Baghdad, while gunfire in the eastern part of the capital killed another.
The military had earlier reported the death an American soldier Saturday in a roadside bomb southeast of Baghdad, making it one of the deadliest weekends for the U.S. military.
Early Monday, a fresh attack hit Baghdad when a homicide car bomber slammed into a checkpoint outside the Interior Ministry in downtown Baghdad, killing 14 people and wounding dozens, police said.
The attack occurred at midmorning, when traffic is usually heavy, and the blast was heard a mile away.
Police 1st Lt. Ahmed Mohammed Ali said eight policemen were among the dead. Among the injured were 17 policemen, he said.
Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki insisted that his government was making progress in combatting attacks by insurgents and sectarian clashes between Shiites and Sunnis.
"We're not in a civil war. Iraq will never be in a civil war," he said through an interpreter on CNN's "Late Edition." "The violence is in decrease and our security ability is increasing."
Asked about U.S. allegations that Iran is supporting Iraqi groups involved in sectarian violence, al-Maliki said the reports were being investigated. He said Iraqi authorities were in contact with Iran in order to determine the veracity of the information "and to prevent this interference."
"This issue is not on the table at this point," al-Maliki said of diplomatic relations with the Jewish state, adding that the issue of Israel should be handled by "international laws."
Across Iraq, Sunday's attacks left more than 50 people dead.
A group of assailants in three cars raked an open-air night market with gunfire, killing at least 12 people and wounding 25 others, police said.
The gunmen fired indiscriminately at throngs of people at the main market of Khalis, a mostly Shiite town 50 miles north of Baghdad, Diyala provincial police said. Earlier in the day, another six people were killed and 14 wounded when a bomb exploded on the outskirts of the town.
In downtown Baghdad, a bomb in a minibus exploded outside the Palestine Hotel, killing nine people and wounding 16, while a car bomb outside the offices of a government-run newspaper left three dead and at least 29 wounded, police and witnesses said.
Two back-to-back suicide car bombings in the northern city of Kirkuk killed nine people and wounded 22, hours after another suicide car bomb killed one person and wounded 16.
In Basra, Iraq's second largest city, 340 miles southeast of Baghdad, a motorcycle bomb at a night market killed four people and wounded 15, the governor's office said.
Drive-by shootings also killed two people in Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad; one in Numaniyah, a town near Kut, 100 miles southeast of the capital; and another three — believed to be the bodyguards of a member of parliament — in Dujail, 50 miles north of the capital, police in both cities said.
In Mahmoudiya, about 20 miles south of Baghdad, police found the bodies of eight people in various parts of the city, Capt. Rasheed Al-Samerayi of Mahmoudiyah police said. All had been handcuffed and blindfolded, he said.
The U.S. military command said Iraqi and coalition forces were expanding a security operation in the capital that aims to crack down on violence neighborhood by neighborhood. Security forces were to cordon off and search all the buildings in the Sunni district of Azamiyah in north Baghdad, the command said in a statement.
Since Aug. 7, about 12,000 additional U.S. and Iraqi troops have been brought into the capital as part of the security effort, dubbed "Operation Together Forward," and have covered four of the most problematic capital neighborhoods.
The security sweep has already "resulted in a 36 percent reduction of murders across the city of Baghdad," said Maj. Gen. James D. Thurman, commander of U.S. forces in Baghdad.
British Ambassador to Iraq Dominic Asquith said that, while sectarian violence persisted, it had not reached the level of civil war.
"There is no question there is sectarian violence going on, inspired by people who are determined to fan the flames of sectarian violence," Asquith told reporters. "That sectarian violence is very focused on Baghdad. And you know well that there are large areas of Iraq that are not affected by that sectarian violence."
"I've spent some of my time in Lebanon in earlier years and this does not look to me like civil war," he said.
On Saturday, the prime minister appealed to Iraqis to support his national reconciliation plan to end the bloodshed.
But the persistent killings showed that is still a distant goal, even though it was endorsed by hundreds of tribal chiefs at a conference on Saturday who signed a "pact of honor" to support the prime minister's effort.