Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Iraq update

BAGHDAD (AP) — A top American general urged radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr on Wednesday to rein in his fighters as a U.S. soldier was killed during a gunbattle in a militia stronghold in Baghdad.

Two bombings also struck the northern city of Mosul within 30 minutes, killing four people and wounding 12 amid concerns that al-Qaida in Iraq is regrouping.

The U.S. soldier died from a bullet wound in a clash in New Baghdad, a stronghold of al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia in an eastern section of the capital, according to Lt. Col. Steve Stover, a military spokesman.

A rocket also slammed into a closed school as teenagers were playing soccer outside, killing two youths and wounding three amid sporadic fighting in the sprawling Sadr City district, a predominantly Shiite area of Baghdad that is home to 2.5 million people.

Fighting that began a month ago in response to an Iraqi government crackdown on militia violence has put a severe strain on a cease-fire called in late August by al-Sadr. The anti-U.S. cleric threatened this weekend to unleash his militia in "open war" if the operations persist.

Despite heightened rhetoric by al-Sadr and his followers, U.S. commanders have been careful not to directly link the cleric to the fighting, instead blaming Iranian-backed Shiite fighters who have broken with his movement.

"We do not attribute what we've seen to JAM," said the No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, using the Iraqi acronym for the Mahdi Army.

Let's hope al-Sadr gets the message.

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