BAGHDAD – Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, meanwhile, urged parliament to cancel its summer break or at least limit it to two weeks, expressing frustration over the failure to pass key legislation aimed at promoting reconciliation and stemming support for the violence.
Al-Maliki's office said the Shiite leader "hoped that the parliament would cancel its summer vacation or limit it to a fortnight to help the government solve the pending issues on top of which was the vacant ministerial posts."
Al-Maliki discussed the failure to pass many draft laws during a meeting Saturday with U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and presidential adviser Meghan O'Sullivan, according to his office.
Indicating a tough road ahead regardless of the assembly's vacation plans, an influential Shiite politician rejected calls for a law that would let former members of Saddam Hussein's ruling party return to government jobs — one of the so-called benchmarks demanded by Washington.
Ammar al-Hakim — whose ailing father Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim is the leader of the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq — promised to work peacefully to end the foreign presence in Iraq but said the return of former Baathists to government positions would only deepen rifts.
"The Saddamist Baathists and (Sunni extremists) are responsible in the first place for the suffering of the Iraqi people and for the killings and the genocide and targeting of the holy places," he said. "We differentiate clearly between the senior and the simple Baathists who emerged in the society and took on roles as other Iraqis. But the Saddamist Baathists cannot have a role or a sensitive position in our country. We cannot allow that."
Separately, the Iraqi army said troops have detained 46 suspected militants and killed five others since launching a new operation in several areas and villages in the eastern half of volatile Diyala province on Wednesday. A kidnap victim also was freed and two car bombs and six other explosive devices were seized in the offensive, according to the Iraqi military.
U.S. and Iraqi forces have stepped up efforts in recent weeks against the violence in Diyala, particularly in the provincial capital, Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad. Sunni and Shiite extremists fled to the area as U.S. and Iraqi forces began an offensive in the capital.
U.S. troops regained control of the western half of the city last month and launched operations into the rest of Baqouba on Tuesday. The Iraqi army statement said 13 insurgents had been killed and 16 detained in the city, which is in western Diyala.
The Americans said earlier this week that they have killed at least 67 Al Qaeda operatives in Baqouba, arrested 253, seized 63 weapons caches and have destroyed 151 roadside bombs since last month.
Al-Rubaie would not say how long it would take for Iraqi forces to be able to operate on their own.
Aircraft fired missiles and dropped a bomb in a Shiite stronghold in northeastern Baghdad, killing six militants, the U.S. military said Saturday. Iraqi officials claimed a higher death toll, saying 18 civilians were killed.
In other violence, a minibus was struck in a mortar attack shortly after noon in the predominantly Shiite area of Baladiyat in eastern Baghdad, killing at least five people and wounding 11, police said. Mortar shells also slammed into the eastern outskirts of Baghdad, killing two people and wounding four, another officer said on condition of anonymity because of security concerns.
The U.S. military said that a roadside bomb killed a U.S. soldier in Diyala province on Friday, raising to at least 3,631 members of the U.S. military who have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
The Husseiniyah airstrikes began after American forces came under small-arms fire from a building just before midnight, prompting helicopters to fire missiles at the structure, the military said, adding that three of the gunmen fled into another building.
Aircraft dropped a bomb that destroyed that house, setting off at least seven secondary explosions believed caused by explosives and munitions stored inside, according to the military statement.
Iraqi police inspected the site and reported six militants killed and five wounded, it said.
The military account contradicted reports from Iraqi police and hospital officials, who said 18 civilians had been killed and 21 wounded in the 2 a.m. attack in Husseiniyah, where Shiite militias operate openly near the road leading to volatile Diyala province.
AP Television News videotape showed wounded women and children lying in hospital beds, and white pickup trucks carrying at least 11 bodies wrapped in blankets to the morgue. Men unloaded the bodies, including several that were small and apparently children, as women shrouded in black wailed in mourning.
Relatives said those killed had died in the airstrike. The conflicting accounts could not be reconciled.
The Iraqi officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared retribution, also said three houses were destroyed and five cars were damaged.