BAGHDAD – American and Iraqi troops killed 38 militants in the fiercest clashes with militants in weeks in Baghdad, including 22 who attacked a military checkpoint in a Shiite militia stronghold, the U.S. military said Monday.
Suspected Shiite extremists, apparently taking advantage of a sandstorm that blanketed the capital, attacked several checkpoints and hammered the U.S.-protected Green Zone in the fiercest salvo in weeks on Sunday. The sandstorm had grounded the American aircraft that normally prowl for launching teams.
Attacks continued Monday morning as insurgents lobbed more rockets or mortar shells toward the Green Zone, which houses the U.S. embassy and much of the Iraqi government on the west side of the Tigris River, benefiting from continued limited visibility that gave cover to the launching teams. Alarms could be heard and the public address system in the area warned residents to take cover and stay away from windows.
The U.S. Embassy on Monday confirmed the area was hit by indirect fire, the military's term for rocket or mortar attacks, and said there were "no reports of serious injury or deaths at this time."
The fighting escalated as anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, rejected terms set by the Iraqi government for lifting a crackdown against his Mahdi Army militia.
The clashes Sunday were concentrated in Sadr City, the stronghold of the Mahdi Army, where U.S. soldiers used Abrams main battle tanks to repel the attackers.
The American and Iraqi soldiers came under attack "by a large group of criminals," the U.S. military said in a statement.
Fifty-eight people, including five children and eight women, were also injured in clashes in Sadr City since Sunday, local health officials said Monday.
On Sunday, the U.S. military claimed success with operations that have effectively sealed off the southern section of Baghdad's Sadr City, a militia stronghold that is believed to be one of the prime launching sites for the Green Zone attacks.
The Green Zone has been regularly shelled since fighting broke out over a U.S.-backed government crackdown against militias that began in late March. American commanders have blamed what they call Iranian-backed Shiite factions they say have broken with a cease-fire imposed by al-Sadr in late August.
On Sunday, Al-Sadr's spokesman in the holy city of Najaf called the Shiite-led government's terms for ceasing the crackdown against the militias "illogical."
Salah al-Obeidi accused Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, himself a Shiite, of wanting to resolve the problem by force instead of dialogue. Chief among al-Maliki's demands announced Friday were that the militias surrender heavy weapons and hand over all wanted people.
Brig. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, the Iraqi military spokesman for Baghdad operations, on Sunday said the government would maintain the crackdown.
Meanwhile, representatives from rival factions in Iraq — senior Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish politicians — said Monday that all parties agreed to renounce violence at weekend talks in Finland facilitated by former peace negotiators in Northern Ireland and South Africa.
The representatives said that all parties agreed that foreign troops must leave Iraq, but only when Iraqi forces are ready to assume responsibility for security.