BAGHDAD – U.S. troops clashed with suspected Sunni insurgents holed up in a mosque north of Baghdad and launched an air-to-ground Hellfire missile into the structure. One American soldier was killed in the fighting, the military said Friday.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, meanwhile, traveled to Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit to meet with Sunni tribal leaders, hoping for their support for a new alliance to save his crumbling U.S.-backed government.
The Shiite leader has threatened to turn to local Sunni officials who have joined forces against Al Qaeda in Iraq if he cannot reach agreement with prominent Sunni politicians who have balked at his efforts.
"There is more uniting us than dividing us," he said. "We do not want to allow Al Qaeda and the militias to exist for our coming generations. Fighting terrorism gives us a way to unite."
With their government bogged down in political crisis, hospital officials in northwestern Iraq pleaded for more help as cleanup efforts continued after the deadliest wave of suicide attacks since the war started in March 2003.
Kifah Mohammed, the director of the Sinjar hospital, which was closest to the blast site, said bodies were decomposing under the rubble and warned greater tragedy loomed if the shattered communities did not get food, water and medicine.
"We will see diseases more dangerous than the explosion itself and this will spill over to nearby areas," Mohammed told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
The U.S. military announced the deaths of two American soldiers, one in a roadside bombing in eastern Baghad on Friday, and the other killed when troops stationed at a nearby outpost came under fire from the Honest Mohammed Mosque late Thursday in Tarmiyah.
The American forces were targeting about six insurgents who were believed sheltered inside, according to the military, and cordoned off the area. Unable to find the preacher, the Americans sent the Sunni mosque's groundskeeper into the building to persuade those inside to come out after they refused calls on loudspeakers, the military said.
"About 20 left the mosque and stated there was no one left in the mosque. This was not true," said Lt. Col. Michael Donnelly, a military spokesman for northern Iraq. He said those 20 had been detained.
The missile was fired at the mosque after troops spotted gunmen on the roof, Donnelly said.
A police officer and a witness, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared retribution, said U.S. troops stationed near the mosque came under fire before sunset prayers and the raid occurred as worshippers left the building after the services. The missile left a hole in the minaret, they said. The military said the roof of the mosque sustained only minor damage.
Mindful of the sensitivities surrounding places of worship, U.S. forces generally avoid directly raiding mosques in Iraq, instead providing a cordon while allied Iraqi security forces search the buildings. But the military creal roles in political decision-making, not superficial participation that lacks any authority," it said.
The new Shiite-Kurdish coalition will retain a majority in parliament — 181 of the 275 seats — and apparently have a clear path to pass legislation demanded by the Bush administration, including a law on sharing Iraq's oil wealth among Iraqi groups and returning some Saddam Hussein-era officials purged under earlier White House policies.
A crucial progress report by U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and commander Gen. David Petraeus is due in Congress in less than a month.
The quadruple bombings on Tuesday swept through Yazidi communities near the Syrian, collapsing entire blocks of mud and stone houses and leaving huge piles of rubble.
The U.S. military has blamed Al Qaeda in Iraq for the attacks and the choice of the minority religious group and the remote area as targets suggested the extremist group could be pushing into new areas in northern Iraq after being driven from strongholds by U.S.-led offensives.