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Battle Continues In Central Baghdad

Iraqi and U.S. troops chased militants in and out of alleys and conducted house-to-house searches Wednesday in a central Baghdad neighborhood, a day after fierce fighting that killed 50 insurgents.

An Iraqi Army officer said 15 suspects had been arrested in Baghdad's troubled Haifa Street section. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of security concerns.

For U.S. troops, today was business as usual, reports CBS News chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan, even as their commander in chief prepared to tell the nation the strategy they're carrying out now is not working.

That's not something soldiers from the 1st Cavalry Division could afford to think about, as they supported their Iraqi Army partners on a joint patrol through the most dangerous Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad.

The Haifa Street region has come under attack by Americans several times in the war, only to see the return of militant gunmen when the military pressure eased.

Also Wednesday, the U.S. military said three soldiers had died from combat wounds in Iraq.

A Task Force Lightning soldier assigned to 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division died Tuesday from a gunshot wound sustained in the Diyala province northeast of Baghdad, the military said in a statement.

Two more soldiers died the same day in Iraq's western Anbar Province, another statement said. One was assigned to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group, and one was assigned to 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division.

All three names were withheld pending family notification.

In other developments:

  • Bombings and shootings across Iraq killed at least 21 people late Tuesday and early Wednesday, including the three U.S. soldiers. A suicide bomber walked into a crowd of people milling outside a police station in the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar, killing four civilians and wounding a dozen others, police said. Around the same time, another bomber targeted the convoy of the Tal Afar mayor. A child was killed and four other people including a driver were hurt, but the mayor survived, police said.
  • Iraq's national security adviser, Mouwaffak al-Rubaie, said Wednesday that the nation's top Shiite Muslim cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, agreed that illegal weapons should be removed from the public, an indication that the spiritual leader will support a U.S.-backed security plan for Baghdad.
  • Iraqi President Jalal Talabani on Wednesday said the government should delay the execution of two of Saddam Hussein's co-defendants. Saddam's half brother and former intelligence chief, Barzan Ibrahim, and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, former head of Iraq's Revolutionary Court, were sentenced to death after being found guilty along with Saddam of involvement in killing 148 Shiite Muslims after a 1982 assassination attempt on the former leader in the northern town of Dujail.
  • President Bush will announce a new war strategy on Wednesday, reports . It's expected to include a call for 20,000 more U.S. troops. A senior defense official said Tuesday that the first wave of additional troops will go into Iraq before the end of the month.

    A prominent hard-line leader of Iraq's Sunni Arabs lashed out against new security plans by Mr. Bush and Iraq's prime minister, saying in an interview published Wednesday that they were plotting to kill Sunnis.

    Iraqi Defense Minister Abdul-Qader al-Obaidi said the new security plan announced by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki days earlier had three or four phases, and that "the first stage has already begun."

    Al-Obaidi did not elaborate on what steps the government had taken or say whether the Haifa Street operation was part of the security plan. He said that offensive was launched in response to the killings of 27 people there on Saturday.

    "This is what made us decide to go into Haifa street," al-Obaidi told The Associated Press. He added that at least seven foreign Arabs were captured, including some who entered Iraq recently.

    An Iraqi Army general, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the plan, said the Haifa Street battle was not part of the new Baghdad security plan.

    U.S. tanks lined the streets in the neighborhood, a militant Sunni Arab stronghold located just north of the heavily fortified Green Zone — home to the U.S. Embassy and other facilities.

  • Haifa Street is a broad, two-lane thoroughfare that stretches northwest from the Green Zone through the heart of Baghdad, along the Tigris River. Apartment buildings as high as 10 stories line the street, with retail space on the ground level.

    The banks of the Tigris peak through over squat houses on the street's eastern side.

    A well-to-do enclave under Saddam Hussein, many prominent Baathists made their homes there. Now the neighborhood has fallen into disrepair, and discount shops have replaced upscale boutiques. Some storefronts are shuttered altogether.

    Al-Maliki aides have said the assault would target Sunni insurgents first, rather than Shiite Muslim militiamen blamed in sectarian killings.

    In an interview published Wednesday, Sunni leader Harith al-Dhari — head of the influential Association of Muslims Scholars, a group with ties to some Sunni insurgents — said the offensive would not provide balanced security.

    "This government has taken as its job to slaughter, arrest, abduct and displace (Sunnis). It is not taking its responsibility for a real security or economy or even providing services for the Iraqi people," al-Dhari was quoted by the Saudi newspaper Al-Watan as saying.

    "Now they want to implement the new security plan with the collaboration of the American president George Bush," he added.

    U.S. officials have said the additional U.S. troops deployed under Mr. Bush's new strategy would work with Iraqi troops to put down both Sunni insurgents and Shiite militiamen.

    But al-Dhari, who left Iraq for Jordan after al-Maliki's government accused him of inciting terrorism, said the security plans were intended to target the Sunni minority.

    "This security plan intends to attack and besiege (Sunni) villages and cities, to arrest and eliminate the youths who are thought to be with the resistance, or potential insurgents," he said.

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