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Continued U.S. Airstrikes in Baghdad Draw Criticism

Times Staff Writer

U.S. forces launched airstrikes Tuesday on the Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City for the second consecutive day, and two British soldiers were killed in an ambush in the southern city of Basra.

Sadr City, a Shiite Muslim-dominated area in the eastern part of the capital, is a stronghold of the Al Mahdi militia led by radical cleric Muqtada Sadr. Though his forces have been weakened by their August expulsion from the southern city of Najaf after a prolonged U.S. siege, attacks against American and Iraqi patrols have become a daily occurrence in Sadr City, and visitors report that the streets are dotted with bombs.

U.S. forces have launched multiple offensives targeting Shiite rebels in the densely populated district. U.S. forces said a “precision strike” Monday killed four insurgents, but hospital officials said 10 people, including civilians, were killed.

Tuesday’s attack injured at least three people, officials at Sadr City’s Jawader Hospital said. It was unclear whether any insurgents were killed or injured.

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In recent weeks, U.S. forces have also launched regular airstrikes on the town of Fallouja, west of Baghdad, which is controlled by Sunni Muslim insurgents. Although U.S. military operations supposedly are coordinated with Iraqi leaders, the Americans’ increasing reliance on air attacks drew criticism Tuesday from the U.S.-backed interim Iraqi president.

Drawing a parallel between U.S. tactics in Iraq and Israeli actions in the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, President Ghazi Ajil Yawer said the U.S. strikes were viewed by the Iraqi people as “collective punishment” against towns and neighborhoods.

Footage of injured and dead women and children being pulled from bombed buildings “brings to mind Gaza,” Yawer said in an interview on CNN.

Yawer’s comments echo criticism of American military tactics in the spring, when members of the now-disbanded Iraqi Governing Council stridently protested a Marine siege of Fallouja.

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Also Tuesday, insurgents armed with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades launched a morning attack on a two-vehicle British army convoy in the southern city of Basra.

Shakir Hashem, a 28-year-old auto repair shop owner, identified the attackers as Al Mahdi militiamen. They “were setting a trap to attack the British troops.... When the convoy passed, they opened fire,” he said.

British troops returned fire, and during the ensuing gun battle a grenade launched by one of the attackers struck a nearby auto shop, setting it ablaze, Hashem said. Two British soldiers who were injured in the ambush died at a military hospital.

The U.S. military identified a soldier killed Monday by a sniper in Balad, north of Baghdad, as Sgt. 1st Class Joselito O. Villanueva, 36, of Los Angeles.

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Two other soldiers who died last week in Iraq also have been identified. Spc. Robert Unruh, 25, of Tucson was killed Saturday when his unit was attacked in Al Anbar province west of Baghdad. On the same day, Spc. Clifford L. Moxley Jr., 51, a National Guardsman based in Berwick, Penn., died of “non-combat related injuries.”

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Times staff writer Thomas S. Mulligan in Baghdad, special correspondent Othman Ghanim in Basra and a special correspondent in Sadr City contributed to this report.


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