Iraq Violence Surges For Second Day

Violence in Iraq left nearly 50 people dead Monday in a suicide car bombing and clashes between Shiite militia and Iraqi security forces, a brutal contradiction of the prime minister's claim that bloodshed was decreasing.

The deaths followed a day of bombings and shootings on Sunday, when more than 60 people were killed across the country, from the northern city of Kirkuk to the capital Baghdad and down to the south in Basra.

The dead included eight American soldiers, one of the deadliest weekends for the U.S. military in recent months.

In the city of Diwaniyah, gun battles between Iraqi forces and militiamen of the Mahdi Army loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr left at least 34 people dead and about 70 wounded, Iraqi officials said.

The fighting broke out late Sunday night when Iraqi soldiers conducted raids in three neighborhoods to flush out the militiamen and seize weapons, said army Capt. Fatik Aied.

He said the fighting continued Monday.

In other developments:

  • Major General William Caldwell, spokesman for the Multi-National Forces in Iraq, said Monday that Iraqi Army forces become more capable "each and every day." Speaking to reporters in Baghdad, Caldwell said the ongoing operation to secure the city of Baghdad is moving along as anticipated and is making neighborhoods safer.

  • British Defense Minister Des Browne arrived in Baghdad Monday for talks with Iraqi officials expected to focus on the gradual handover of security in the provinces to Iraqi forces.

  • Kidnapped Sunni lawmaker Tayseer al-Mashhadani was released Saturday after being held for nearly two months, an adviser to the prime minister and a senior official from her party said. Al-Mashhadani and seven of her bodyguards were seized July 1 by gunmen in a Shiite area of east Baghdad as they were traveling from nearby Diyala province to attend a parliament session the following day.

    Dr. Mohammed Abdul-Muhsen of the city's general hospital said 34 bodies were brought in — 25 Iraqi soldiers, seven civilians and two militiamen. He said at least 70 people were injured, but could not immediately give a breakdown.

    Fatik said the militiamen were using rocket-propelled grenades and automatic assault rifles. At least 10 militiamen had been arrested, he said.

    Diwaniyah, 80 miles south of Baghdad, is a Shiite-dominated city where the influence of Mahdi Army has been gradually increasing. It already runs a virtual parallel government in Sadr City, a slum in eastern Baghdad.

    But the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, has found it difficult to rein in al-Sadr, whose movement holds 30 of the 275 seats in parliament and five Cabinet posts.

    Al-Sadr's backing also helped al-Maliki win the top job during painstaking negotiations within the Shiite alliance that led to the ouster of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari.


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