BAGHDAD, Iraq – Three U.S. airmen died Sunday in a car bombing in Baghdad — among at least 17 people killed in violence across Iraq as Iraqi troops launched a fresh battle to oust militias and pacify the capital.
The sectarian attacks continued despite the major drive to tame Baghdad. The Iraqi army reported killing 30 militants late Saturday in a Sunni insurgent stronghold in the center of the city, just to the north of the heavily fortified Green Zone.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, speaking only hours earlier at a ceremony marking the 85th anniversary of the Iraqi army, announced his intention for the relentless and open-ended bid to crush militant fighters bedeviling Baghdad.
Hassan al-Suneid, a key aid and member of al-Maliki's Dawa Party, said the Iraqi leader had committed 20,000 soldiers to the operation that would call upon American troops and airpower only when needed.
A car bomb in Baghdad on Sunday killed the three airmen assigned to the 447th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron's Explosive Ordnance Division, the U.S. military said. A soldier died Saturday after coming under fire in the capital, and another soldier died Friday from combat wounds sustained in Iraq's volatile western Anbar province.
With the deaths, at least 3,011 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
Among Sunday's attacks:
• A barrage of mortars killed four civilians and wounded five others in central Baghdad after a roadside bomb missed an Iraqi police patrol and killed two pedestrians, police said.
• Gunmen drove through a marketplace in southwestern Baghdad, spraying bullets into food and clothing stalls and killing three Sunni Muslim shopkeepers, a police officer said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. Another drive-by shooting targeted four guards for the Iraqi Finance Ministry, killing one of them.
• In Mahaweel, about 35 miles south of Baghdad, gunmen killed a Shiite cleric and his son as they were heading to a nearby Shiite shrine, police said.
• Attackers shot dead a Defense Ministry employee on his way to work south of Baghdad, and a provincial councilman was injured in an assassination attempt in Hillah. Police said a parked car bomb killed a woman and wounded 13 people in an outdoor market in the same city, about 60 miles south of Baghdad.
On Saturday, a stern al-Maliki told the nation the Iraqi army operation in Baghdad would continue "until all goals are achieved and security is ensured for all citizens."
"We are fully aware that implementing the plan will lead to some harassment for all beloved Baghdad residents, but we are confident they fully understand the brutal terrorist assault we all face."
State television said eight militants, including five Sudanese fighters, were captured Saturday in the battle near Haifa Street, a Sunni insurgent stronghold on the west bank of the Tigris, where police reported finding the bodies of 27 torture victims dumped earlier in the day.
Al-Suneid, who is also a member of parliament, said the new drive to free Baghdad from the grip of sectarian violence would focus initially on Sunni insurgent strongholds in western Baghdad.
Sunnis were likely to cry foul, given that a large measure of today's violence in Baghdad is the work of Shiite militias, loyal to al-Maliki's key political backer, Muqtada al-Sadr.
Also Sunday, the U.S. military announced that 88 suspects were captured in American and Iraqi raids last week, and a weapons cache used for assembling improvised explosive devices was destroyed. Sixty-nine of those suspects were released after questioning, the military said in a statement.