US Military: Strike Kills Iraqi Militant

BAGHDAD (AP) -- A U.S. airstrike destroyed a house in the southern city of Basra, killing a militant, the U.S. military said Thursday, and Iraqi witnesses and hospital officials said at least three civilians were among the dead.

A series of bombings also struck Baghdad on Thursday.

A parked car bomb targeting a police patrol in western Baghdad killed at least one civilian and wounded 10 other people, including three officers, police said.

A roadside bomb struck an Iraqi army patrol elsewhere in the predominantly Sunni Yarmouk neighborhood in the capital, killing one soldier and wounding three others.

In northern Iraq, a suicide bomber attacked an Iraqi checkpoint west of Mosul late Wednesday, killing seven people, including a woman and a 5-year-old child, and wounding 12, according to the Iraqi military.

The U.S. military confirmed the Wednesday night attack but put the casualty toll at five dead and 19 wounded.

Nobody claimed responsibility for the attack. But Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, is believed to be the last major urban center where al-Qaida in Iraq maintains a substantial presence.

The Wednesday evening airstrike came as the Iraqi government apparently shifts gears to slowly squeeze the gunmen instead of a full-scale assault as it maneuvers for control of Basra - the country's oil capital and a major commercial center of 2 million people.

The U.S.-led coalition directed "aerial fires" against enemy forces fighting Iraqi troops Wednesday near the militia stronghold of Qibla in Basra, said Lt. David Russell, a military spokesman.

The military later confirmed an American plane conducted the attack, saying one militant was killed but it had no reports of civilian casualties.

Associated Press Television News showed cranes and rescue workers searching for survivors in the concrete rubble from the two-story house that was leveled.

Witnesses said three people were killed and three others believed to be buried in the rubble, apparently leading to confusion over the number of casualties.

"While we were preparing for evening prayer, U.S. aircraft bombed this house, we rushed to save survivals but in vain," a neighbor identified only as Haj Juwad told APTN. "The father, mother and a young boy were killed and three others were buried under rubble. We evacuated two people and one is still under the rubble."

Hospital officials said three bodies had been received, including two men and an elderly woman, and two women were wounded in the strike. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to release the information.

The Qibla district where the attack occurred is a Shiite militia stronghold that has seen some of the fiercest fighting in the offensive that began March 25.

The airstrike underscored the continuing tensions four days after radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr ordered his Mahdi Army militia fighters to stand down after days of widespread clashes that killed hundreds of people.

Despite an end to heavy fighting, the Interior Ministry spokesman, Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, has said security operations were continuing and that an April 8 deadline for gunmen to surrender their weapons remains in effect.

British military spokesman Maj. Tom Holloway said a number of airstrikes had been conducted over the last 24 hours in Basra to support the Iraqis in the fight.

"We remain committed to supporting the government of Iraq ... and action will be taken against those who attack the Iraqis and coalition forces," he said.

In the wake of the fighting, Britain has suspended plans to withdraw 1,500 soldiers from southern Iraq.

The violence exploded March 25 when Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki launched a major operation to wrest control of Basra from the militias, which had effectively ruled the city since 2005.

U.S. and Iraqi officials have maintained that the crackdown was directed at criminals and renegade militiamen but not the Sadrist political movement, which holds 30 of the 275 seats in the national parliament and is a major political force.

But the Sadrists believed the operation was aimed at weakening their movement before provincial elections this fall. The militia fighters mounted a fierce resistance, prompting the Iraqis to call in U.S. jets and British tanks and artillery to help in the battle.

The failure to gain a quick and decisive victory over the militias left al-Maliki politically battered, raising doubts about Iraqi military capability just a week before top U.S. commander Gen. David Petraeus briefs Congress about prospects for further American troop cuts.


Associated Press writer Hamid Ahmed contributed to this report.

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