Coalition forces raided buildings used by a militia loyal to a radical Shiite cleric in two southern cities and clashed with militiamen elsewhere Wednesday in fighting that killed 15 Iraqis, military officials said. One U.S. soldier died.
The heaviest fighting came in the city of Karbala, south of the capital, where coalition forces raided a hotel, the local former Baath Party headquarters and the regional governor's office, where fighters loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr had been stockpiling weapons, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said.
In the raid overnight on the governor's office, troops came under fire and in the battle that ensued, 10 al-Sadr followers were killed, Kimmitt told reporters in Baghdad. The Polish command in Iraq said a soldier was killed in the clashes, without specifying his nationality. Polish, Bulgarian, U.S. and other peacekeepers are active in the area.
The U.S. soldier from the 1st Armored Division died when a dump truck tried to ram the checkpoint, where the soldier was positioned, the military said.
Outside the cities of Kufa and Najaf, U.S. forces attacked a van where Iraqis were seen unloading weapons. The vehicle was destroyed and five Iraqis were killed, Kimmitt said.
In Najaf, militiamen of Sadr's Al-Mahdi Army ambushed three U.S. Humvees on Wednesday. Soldiers in the vehicles opened fire with machine guns on the attackers, who withdrew. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
Coalition troops also raided and occupied al-Sadr's office in the city of Diwaniyah in an operation to "reduce militia influence in the city," Kimmitt said. The troops were fired on from a vehicle, which was destroyed.
In other developments:
Members of Iraq's U.S.-appointed Governing Council have also expressed concern about limitations on the power of the sovereignty the yet-unnamed Iraqi government that is to take over. U.S. officials suggest Iraqis should accept limits on power that reflect the reality in the country.
With only weeks to go before the deadline for the U.S.-led coalition to transfer sovereignty, the precise shape of the interim government is still unclear. Questions also remain about the extent of its authority and its relationship with the U.S.-led coalition that will remain in the country.
In Fallujah, meanwhile, the U.S. military distributed leaflets inviting residents to apply for compensation for damage caused to their homes and property in the Marine siege of the city in April. The military also promised projects to clean up the streets, improve water facilities and rebuild schools and mosques damaged in the violence.
U.S. administrators have been emphasizing their desire to carry out reconstruction projects in the city to try to overcome anti-U.S. sentiment, which has only grown since the siege.
Marines began pulling back from most positions in the city last week and have been turning over responsibility to a newly organized force consisting of former members of the Iraqi army.
Moderate Shiites tried to convince al-Sadr to back down in his confrontation with the United States.
Leading Shiite Governing Council member Mohammed Bahr al-Ulloum delivered a message Wednesday from a group of influential Shiites to al-Sadr calling on his militia to disarm and leave Najaf, another Shiite council member Raja Habib Al-Khuzaai told The Associated Press.
The statement by the group — made up of some 500 local council members, tribal leaders from the Najaf area and other prominent Shiites — represented the most public effort yet by Shiite leaders to push al-Sadr into concessions in the standoff, which began when his militia launched an uprising across the south in early April.
The U.S. soldier's death on Wednesday raised to 20 the number of U.S. soldiers killed in the first five days of May. At least 760 U.S. troops have died in Iraq since the war began in March 2003.