BAGHDAD, Iraq — Four U.S. Marines were killed in a Sunni Arab insurgent stronghold west of Baghdad, and pressure mounted in parliament Sunday to replace the interior minister because of the security crisis in the capital.
Also Sunday, a U.S. F-16 jet dropped two precision-guided bombs on a building near Baghdad used by militants affiliated with a group believed responsible a mortar-and-rocket attack in Baghdad’s mostly Shiite district of Karradah last week that killed at least 31 people, U.S. officials said.
Two militants and a child were killed in the airstrike, and four suspects were arrested, the United States said. American officials expressed regret about the child’s death and said “terrorists continue to deliberately place innocent Iraqi women and children in danger by their actions and presence.”
“We do everything possible to avoid civilian casualties during these operations,” U.S. spokesman Lt. Col. Barry Johnson said. “We deeply regret the loss of an innocent life while eliminating a group responsible for targeting so many other innocent Iraqis.
Four suspects were arrested after the air attack, which took place southwest of Baghdad against extremists who had been staging mortar attacks on civilians, a U.S. statement said.
U.S. troops tracked the militants to a building and “coalition aircraft successfully executed the strike,” the statement said.
Cleric demands Lebanon cease-fire
Iraq's top Shiite cleric on Sunday demanded an immediate cease-fire in Lebanon, warning the Muslim world will "not forgive" nations that stand in the way of a stop to the fighting.
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani issued the call following the Israeli airstrike that killed at least 56 Lebanese, mostly women and children, in the village of Qana. It was the deadliest attack in nearly three weeks of fighting.
"Islamic nations will not forgive the entities that hinder a cease-fire," al-Sistani said, in a clear reference to the United States.
"It is not possible to stand helpless in front of this Israeli aggression on Lebanon," he added. "If an immediate cease-fire in this Israeli aggression is not imposed, dire consequences will befall the region."
Al-Sistani wields considerable influence among Iraq's Shiite majority, which has been outraged by the Israeli attack against Hezbollah and by the U.S. refusal to press Israel for an immediate halt to the fighting.
A warning to TV stations
In Baghdad, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki warned television stations against broadcasting footage that could undermine the country’s stability at a time of rising sectarian tensions. The U.S. military announced Saturday that it was moving 3,700 troops from Mosul to Baghdad to try to quell the sectarian violence sweeping the capital.
A statement by the prime minister’s office cited news reports that “capitalize on the footage of victims of terrorist attacks.” He called on media outlets to “respect the dignity of human beings and not to fall in the trap set up by terrorist groups who want to petrify the Iraqi people.”
The statement said the government will take legal action against television stations that do not uphold the code of media ethics. The statement did not elaborate, but it fell short of an earlier al-Maliki warning that he will not hesitate to “shut them down if they do not stop inciting sectarianism.”
There has been an increase in biased reporting by Shiite and Sunni television stations that focus on the suffering of their communities — often with little mention of the other.
In August 2004, the government closed the Baghdad news office of Al-Jazeera television, accusing the station of inciting violence. The office is still closed but the station operates in the Kurdish-ruled area of the north.
Earlier this month, in a visit to Kurdistan, al-Maliki refused to answer a question by an Al-Jazeera correspondent and reportedly rebuked Kurdish officials for allowing the network to operate there.
On Saturday, gunmen attacked two Sunni mosques in the Iraqi capital.
Also Saturday, the western regional commander of the Iraqi Border Protection Force, Brig. Gen. Jawad Hadi al-Selawi, was killed in Karbala, 50 miles south of Baghdad, police said.
Men in two cars sprayed gunfire at the Muhammad Rassulluallah mosque in western Baghdad shortly after midnight, shattering its windows and damaging its walls, police said. One guard was injured.
An hour later, gunmen stormed into the nearby Ashra al-Mubashara mosque, but fled when Iraqi police arrived, officials said.
Sectarian violence has escalated in Iraq in recent months, with Sunni radicals — including members of al-Qaida in Iraq — and Shiite militias staging tit-for-tat killings. Thousands from both sects have fled the country, according to Iraqi officials.
In Baghdad, six day laborers were wounded when a bomb exploded downtown in Tayaran Square, where the workers had gathered to wait for jobs. Three policemen were also wounded when a roadside bomb struck their patrol in northern Baghdad, police said.
More troops into Baghdad?
The attacks came a day after the head of the biggest Shiite party called for a greater security role for Iraqis in the country in place of Americans. The remarks by Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim run counter to U.S. plans to put more American soldiers on the streets of Baghdad to try to curb the surge in sectarian violence.
The U.S. plan calls for moving up to 5,000 additional American troops with armored vehicles and tanks into the capital. Some critics believe the move will undermine confidence among Iraqi forces and expose more U.S. soldiers to attacks by Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias.
Al-Hakim, the former commander of the feared Badr Brigade militia, has long complained the Americans have interfered with Iraqi forces' efforts to crack down on Sunni insurgents and al-Qaida in Iraq terrorists. He said the surging violence was due to "being lax in hunting down terrorists and upholding the wrong policies in dealing with them."
Al-Hakim said Sunni extremists and Saddam Hussein loyalists were to blame for the violence.
However, he also endorsed the government's pledge to disband militias, including those affiliated with Shiite politicians.
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