A sniper shot and killed a U.S. soldier, then lured his comrades to a booby-trapped house where four more troops were killed in a complex attack believed to have been the work of al-Qaida in Iraq, a U.S. general said Sunday.
U.S. Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, who commands the volatile southern rim of Baghdad and districts to the south, said the use of rigged houses was a new tactic against American forces trying to root out bomb networks in the rural insurgent strongholds.
The soldiers entered the house Saturday in search of the sniper who had killed one of their comrades minutes earlier. One soldier stepped on a pressure-triggered bomb. He and three others were killed and four wounded, Lynch told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
All the soldiers were assigned to Task Force Marne, which works in Lynch’s area of operations — a volatile mix of Sunni and Shiite extremists.
The huge blast occurred in the Arab Jubour district southeast of the capital. In early June, the military began clearing the district of suspected al-Qaida militants who were using it to build car bombs and launch rockets at American bases and Shiite Muslim neighborhoods.
The deaths raised to 70 the number of Task Force Marne soldiers killed since April 4, about 80 percent from makeshift bombs hidden on roadsides, in houses or planted in the ground, Lynch said.
The figures reflect the increased vulnerability of American forces as they have increasingly targeted known militant safehavens and left the safety of heavily fortified bases to deploy in remote outposts and on foot patrols.
An enemy surge, too
“As we surged, the enemy surged,” Lynch said. “We do indeed make safety and security our first priority, but we are not going to stop taking the fight to the enemy.”
Lynch said the attack on Saturday bore the hallmarks of al-Qaida in Iraq, which had operated freely in the area before the U.S. ground operation began.
Overall, at least 3,690 members of the U.S. military have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
President Bush ordered some 30,000 more troops to Iraq earlier this year in a bid to calm the sectarian violence and give the Iraqi government time to come to agreement on measures aimed at bringing Sunnis into the government and stemming support for the insurgency.
While the U.S. military has claimed recent successes, the political process has stalled.
The leader of the largest Sunni bloc in parliament appealed Sunday for help from Arab countries against what he called Iranian-supported death squads and militias in the latest blow to the U.S.-backed Iraqi government’s reconciliation efforts.
Adnan al-Dulaimi, the leader of the Iraqi Accordance Front, warned that Baghdad was in danger of falling into the hands of the “Persians” and “Safawis,” using terms referring to Iran.
“Arabs, your brothers in the land of the two rivers and in Baghdad in particular are exposed to an unprecedented genocide campaign by the militias and death squads that are directed, armed and supported by Iran,” al-Dulaimi said in a statement e-mailed to The Associated Press by his office.
Most of Iraq’s neighboring countries are majority Sunni, while Iran and Iraq have mostly Shiite populations, raising regional concern about the Iranian government’s influence over the Iraq Shiite-dominated leadership and security forces.
Sticky political situationAl-Dulaimi’s words reflected growing frustration among Sunnis with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government, which is widely accused of having a Shiite bias and has failed to stop the execution-style killings believed carried out mainly by Shiite-led death squads. Bombings usually blamed on Sunni extremists also persist.
The U.S. military also has stepped up claims that Iran is fueling violence in Iraq by supplying Shiite militias with training and powerful weapons. The Iranians deny the claims.
Al-Maliki last week made his second trip to Iran since taking office in what many critics claimed was proof of the neighboring country’s influence over his government. The Shiite leader, however, said he would continue traveling to other countries to seek help in stemming the violence.
“Iraq has turned into the center of terrorism. Iraq will only succeed through reconciliation,” he said at a separate news conference.
But al-Dulaimi’s remarks made no mention of reconciliation.
He said urgent action was needed against what he described as an organized campaign by Shiite militias to drive Sunnis from the capital, saying at least nine neighborhoods have come under attack “by Iranian-made mortars that were given to militias to eradicate the Sunnis.”
U.S., Iraq troops raid holy city
U.S. and Iraqi forces elsewhere reportedly staged raids in a Shiite stronghold in Baghdad and the holy city of Kufa.
In one, a police officer said, two civilians were killed and four wounded when the joint forces backed by helicopters stormed into houses in Baghdad’s Shiite district of Sadr City.
The officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to release the information, also said 16 people were detained. The U.S. military said it was looking into the report.
AP Television News footage and photos showed a crumpled white car and a truck pockmarked by shrapnel, with a pool of blood on the street. Dozens of men carried a black coffin in a funeral for one of the purported victims.
Joint U.S.-Iraqi forces backed by air power also raided the house of an aide to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in the holy city of Kufa, 100 miles south of Baghdad, according to al-Sadr’s office.
The U.S. military had no immediate word on that report either. Sheik Fouad al-Turfi was detained, according to an official and a relative who declined to be identified because they feared retribution.
U.S.-led forces have routinely carried out raids searching for Shiite militants since they launched a Baghdad security crackdown nearly six months ago, despite the risk of upsetting al-Maliki and his efforts at cooperation with Iran.