Sadr City Fighting Leaves Dozens Dead

Mourners carry a coffin holding their relative killed in clashes in the Shiite stronghold of Sadr City in Baghdad, Iraq on Tuesday, April 29, 2008. Clashes erupted on Tuesday morning, killing eight and wounding 25, health officials said. (AP Photo/ Karim Kadim)
AP Photo/Karim Kadim
The U.S. military says soldiers have killed 28 militants during a four-hour firefight in Baghdad's Shiite militia stronghold of Sadr City.

Lt. Col. Steve Stover, a U.S. military spokesman, says the clashes broke out after a U.S. patrol was attacked about 9:30 a.m. with rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns.

He says six U.S. soldiers were wounded in Tuesday's fighting but none of their injuries were life-threatening.

The violence appeared to be a continuation of the weekend's heavy clashes involving attack helicopters and Abrams main battle tanks in which about 45 militants and four U.S. soldiers have died.

A showdown between the Iraqi government and the Mahdi Army militia - led by anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr - has increasingly drawn U.S. forces into battle. American commanders are particularly focused on trying to curb a rise in mortar and rocket attacks on the heavily fortified Green Zone in central Baghdad that houses Iraq's government and many foreign embassies.

Overnight clashes resulted in 42 injuries, officials at the Imam Ali and al-Sadr general hospitals said. Eight more were killed and 25 wounded in continuing firefights on Tuesday morning, said the officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

AP Television News footage showed men helping women cross the street and children running for cover behind blast walls amid gunshots.

Men helped carry several blood-soaked injured people onto stretchers to a local emergency hospital. Outside the hospital, the dead were placed inside plain wooden coffins.

Also in Baghdad, a senior government official was killed in a roadside bombing in the north of the city.

Dhia Jodi Jaber, director general at the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, was hit by a roadside bomb as he left his home on Tuesday morning, the ministry's spokesman Abdullah al-Lami said.

Insurgents frequently target governmental officials and institutions in a bid to disrupt the government's work.

In the southern city of Basra, where the government began its crackdown on Shiite militias on March 25, Iraqi military commander Lt. Gen. Mohan al-Fireji announced the discovery of a huge weapons cache containing roadside bombs, mortar launchers and Iranian-made weapons.

More details on the amount of weapons or how authorities knew they were Iranian-made were not immediately available.

In other developments:

  • The trial of Tariq Aziz, one of Saddam Hussein's best-known lieutenants, was scheduled to open in Baghdad on Tuesday. Aziz is one of eight defendants facing charges in a case dating back to 1992 when the government executed 42 merchants for war-profiteering. Others include Saddam's half brother and the dictator's cousin known as "Chemical Ali," who faces a pending death sentence in another case.
  • The body of an American security contractor kidnapped and slain in Iraq has arrived in western New York for burial. Jonathon Cote's body arrived last night at the Buffalo airport. The 25-year-old Army veteran's flag-draped casket was met by his family and a military honor guard.
  • A female suicide bomber blew herself up at a bus stop near Muqdadiyah, about 60 miles north of Baghdad, killing one and wounding five people, police said.
  • The Iraqi defense ministry said Serbia had agreed to write off $3 billion in Iraq's foreign debt. Serbia's move comes after an international conference last week in Kuwait at which Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and U.S. Secretary of State unsuccessfully pressed Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states to forgive Iraq's debts as a sign of support for Iraq's government. Iraq harbors at least US$67 billion (euro42.14 billion) in foreign debt - the vast majority of it owed to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.