BAGHDAD, Iraq – Fierce fighting between coalition forces and insurgents shut down a city north of Baghdad on Wednesday and gunfire crackled across the capital, as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki traveled to Jordan for a summit with President Bush aimed at halting the country's escalating sectarian violence and paving the way for a reduction of American troops.
By 3 p.m., 13 insurgents, six policemen, and six civilians had been killed, including two Iraqi females who were caught up in a coalition raid north of the capital, police and U.S. officials said. That raised to seven the number of Iraqi females, including an infant, who had died during American raids in Iraq in the last two days. The mangled bodies of six civilians who had been kidnapped and tortured also were found, police said.
In addition, the U.S. military announced the deaths of two more American soldiers.
In New York on Tuesday, U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to extend for one year the mandate of the 160,000-strong multinational force in Iraq.
The Security Council responded to a request from al-Maliki, who said a top government priority is to assume full responsibility for security and stability throughout Iraq but that it needs more time.
Just before al-Maliki and his delegation left Baghdad International Airport for Amman, Jordan, to meet with Bush, some of the prime minister's key Shiite backers — politicians loyal to the radical anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr — said they would carry out their threat to suspend their cooperation with Parliament because of the summit.
The political bloc, known as Sadrists, is a mainstay of support for al-Maliki.
"We are sticking to our position. ... The boycott is still valid," Falih Hassan, a Sadrist legislator, said in an interview with The Associated Press. "Bush is a criminal who killed a lot of Iraqis and we do not want him to interfere in Iraq's affairs. The Iraqi government should negotiate with the U.N. Security Council, not with the leader of the country that is occupying Iraq."
Meanwhile, heavy fighting continued in Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, where clashes between coalition forces and Sunni-Arab insurgents have killed scores of militants and civilians in the past few days.
The university, public schools and many stores remained closed, and the capital's streets were mostly empty, except for a few people who dashed out to small fruit or vegetable stalls to stock up on food.
In a city with a crumbling infrastructure, few residents had electricity and most only received limited water supplies. Many Shiites and Sunnis have fled neighborhoods where they live in a minority, seeking refuge with relatives in nearby provinces or, if they had the money, in neighboring Jordan and Syria.
In Wednesday's deadliest violence in Iraq, coalition forces backed by U.S. aircraft killed eight Al Qaeda in Iraq insurgents during a raid near Baqouba that also left two Iraqi women dead, the U.S. military said.
The early morning attack was aimed at detaining Iraqis who were running a known cell of insurgents, the U.S. command said. Coming under heavy fire from rifles and machine guns, the soldiers called in air support that killed the eight Al Qaeda in Iraq militants, the command said in a brief statement. While searching the area, U.S. forces also found the bodies of two local Iraqi females who had died during the fight.
No coalition casualties were reported.
Baqouba is the capital of Diyala province, where widespread fighting involving insurgents has raged for several days. On Tuesday, Diyala police said they found 11 bullet-riddled bodies around Baqouba.
That same day, U.S. soldiers fought with suspected insurgents in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, killing six Iraqis: one man and five females, including the infant.
That fighting began after a coalition patrol discovered a roadside bomb in the Hamaniyah section of Ramadi and two Iraqi men fled to a house where they took up position on the roof, the military said. U.S. soldiers attacked the building and after the fight the six bodies were found inside, the military said.
It accused the militants of risking the lives of civilians by using the building as a safe house for insurgents in Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, the site of frequent fighting between U.S. forces and militants.
Earlier Wednesday morning, suspected insurgents attacked the police headquarters in downtown Baqouba, and five of the attackers were shot and killed, police said on condition of anonymity, as they regularly do to protect themselves. Insurgents often kill Iraqi security forces for being allied with the U.S.-led coalition.
In Salahuddin, a province west of Diyala, insurgents killed four policemen and wounded four others in a carefully coordinated attack on a police station in Samarra city that used a suicide car bomb and militants armed with guns and rocket-propelled grenades, said police Capt. Laith Mohammed.
In another town in Salahuddin, suspected insurgents attacked a police checkpoint, killing two policemen and wounding two others, said police Capt. Laith Mohammed.
The U.S. command said a U.S. army soldier died Wednesday from wounds suffered in Anbar province, the large region of deserts and isolated towns west of Baghdad, and that a roadside bomb the day before had killed one Army soldier and wounded another in Salahuddin province. That raised to at least 2,883 the number of U.S. service members who have died since the Iraq war began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
In Baghdad, gunfire could be heard for much of the morning near the Green Zone, the heavily fortified area on the Tigris River where Iraq's parliament, U.S. soldiers and American and British embassies are based.
At 7:45 a.m., a roadside bomb exploded near a police patrol in a commercial center of the capital, killing three civilians and wounding 11 Iraqis, including two policeman and three children, said police Lt. Bilal Ali Majid.
Mortar rounds that fell in two different locations of Baghdad also wounded seven Iraqis, police said.