Mortars Strike Baghdad Green Zone

dog tags over flag of Iraq, silhouette of US troops AP/CBS

Extremists unleashed a barrage of more than a dozen mortars or rockets into the Green Zone on Tuesday, killing at least three people, including an American, and wounding 18 in an area once considered the safest in the Iraqi capital.

An Iraqi and a "third country national" were also killed in the attack, the U.S. Embassy said in a statement. The embassy said the 18 wounded included five Americans — two military members and three civilian contract employees.

The attack against the well-protected nerve center of the U.S. and Iraqi leadership occurred at a time of mounting opposition to the war in Congress and is likely to cast doubts on claims that the U.S. troop buildup is bringing stability to the Iraqi capital.

Attacks against the Green Zone have increased in recent months, adding to the concern over the safety of key Iraqi and international officials who live and work in the 3.5-square-mile district along the Tigris River in the center of Baghdad. The zone includes the U.S. and British embassies as well as Iraq's parliament and the offices of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

No group claimed responsibility for Tuesday's barrage, which began after 4 p.m. and sent clouds of white smoke billowing up from inside the Green Zone with each detonation. But some of the fire appeared to have come from the eastern side of the city where the Mahdi Army militia of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr operates.

At least three loud explosions were heard after midnight from Shiite militia strongholds in eastern Baghdad, but it could not be determined whether military operations were under way there.

Security officials had warned of a heightened security threat against the Green Zone following a series of U.S. military strikes against Shiite militias suspected of ties to Iran. In the latest attack, a joint U.S.-Iraqi force raided parts of Sadr City before dawn Tuesday.

In a report last month, the United Nations office in Baghdad said the "threat of indirect fire" — meaning rockets and mortars — into the Green Zone had increased, adding that the barrages had become "increasingly concentrated and accurate."

The report said such attacks increased from 17 in March to 30 in April and 39 by May 22. Between Feb. 19 and the end of May, at least 26 people were killed in Green Zone attacks, the report said.

In other developements:

  • President Bush, facing new pressure to start bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq, said Tuesday he won't consider it until hearing a fresh assessment of the war effort from his top commander there this fall. Struggling to defend its Iraq policy, the Bush administration in a 23-page classified report will point to limited progress being made by the U.S.-backed government in Baghdad, U.S. officials told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

  • Presidential contender Barack Obama on Tuesday dismissed his Democratic rivals' change of heart on the Iraq war as too little too late, while Hillary Rodham Clinton urged a quick end to U.S. involvement in the conflict.

  • Sunni extremists attacked an isolated village northwest of Baghdad in a fierce battle with residents that reportedly left dozens dead, the deputy governor of Iraq's Diyala province said Tuesday. Residents of the village of Sherween called Deputy Gov. Auf Rahim appealing for help, saying there were no Iraqi police or army units nearby to protect them.

  • The United States is sending a third aircraft carrier to the Middle East, the U.S. Navy said Tuesday in a move that bolstered U.S. military capability at a time of tension with Iran and stepped-up operations in Iraq. The Navy confirmed the departure of nuclear-powered USS Enterprise from its home port of Norfolk, Virginia, with about 5,500 sailors and marines.

  • Al Qaeda's No. 2 issued a new audiotape on Tuesday threatening to retaliate against Britain for having honored novelist Salman Rushdie, a U.S.-based intelligence monitoring group said. Ayman al-Zawahri's 20 minute and 43 seconds speech

    • Alfonso Serrano

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