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Projectiles miss Green Zone in Baghdad; 2 dead

Times Staff Writer

A barrage of rocket or mortar fire was aimed at the fortified Green Zone on Sunday as this Iraqi capital was enveloped in a thick sandstorm.

At least two Iraqis were killed and 25 wounded by projectiles that apparently missed their targets and landed in surrounding neighborhoods, police said. There were no immediate reports of casualties inside the enclave, which houses the U.S. Embassy and Iraqi government offices.

U.S. and Iraqi officials typically blame such attacks on Shiite Muslim militiamen, who have been trading sporadic fire with government security forces since a crackdown against the militants began in the southern port city of Basra a month ago. Militiamen take advantage of the lack of U.S. air cover in poor weather to set up and fire their projectiles.

Skirmishing has continued in militia strongholds despite an appeal Friday by Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr to end the bloodletting that has claimed hundreds of lives since the crackdown began. Sadr, whose Mahdi Army militia has been a main target of the crackdown, said at the time that his recent threat of “open war” was aimed only at U.S.-led foreign forces, not Iraqi troops.

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At least 16 people had been killed and 49 injured in clashes since Saturday night in Sadr City, the cleric’s northeastern Baghdad stronghold, according to police and hospital officials in the vast neighborhood.

The U.S. military said attack helicopters and an unmanned drone fired Hellfire missiles at groups of gunmen in three separate weekend incidents there, killing five.

American officials said they had no information on any civilian casualties.

Police and hospital officials also reported clashes Sunday between Shiite militiamen and U.S. and Iraqi forces in two southern Baghdad districts, which they said killed at least one person and injured 15.

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More than 712 rockets and mortar rounds have been launched in Baghdad in the last month, according to Maj. Gen. Qassim Atta, an Iraqi army spokesman.

He told reporters Sunday that most of the shells were made in Iran, a country U.S. and Iraqi officials accuse of arming, funding and training breakaway factions of Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia. Atta did not explain how commanders had made that determination. Tehran denies the accusations.

The number of rounds fired at the Green Zone has dropped since U.S. and Iraqi forces moved into the southern third of Sadr City to prevent militants from using its teeming streets to launch the projectiles. But commanders acknowledge that won’t stop the firing of shells from elsewhere in the capital.

Also Sunday, police said a suicide car bomber attacked a police patrol on the east side of the Tigris River, killing at least three people and injuring 14. Such attacks are a signature of Sunni Arab militants.

The U.S. military said a woman in the area blew herself up in a taxi when policemen drove by on motorcycles, killing at least one civilian bystander and injuring eight of the officers. It was not immediately clear whether the military was describing the same incident reported by the police.

Two more people were killed and 16 injured in a pair of car bombings in west Baghdad, police said. South of Kirkuk, an Iraqi soldier was killed in a drive-by shooting on his way home to Luqam village.

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alexandra.zavis@latimes.com

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Times staff writer Tina Susman in Baghdad and special correspondents in Baghdad and Kirkuk contributed to this report.


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