Death toll rises as fighting spreads in Baghdad


Another 19 people were killed in fighting between militiamen and security forces in Shiite areas of Baghdad, officials said on Wednesday, as the death toll from weeks of street battles passed 360.


The US military said troops had killed 15 people in overnight clashes in areas of east Baghdad controlled by Mahdi Army militiamen loyal to radical anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.


American forces used ground troops and air strikes during the clashes which began in the late afternoon, a US military statement said.


In one incident, soldiers were attacked with a roadside bomb and rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) while on patrol in east Baghdad around 9:45pm (1845 GMT), the statement said. Six militiamen were killed in the ensuing gun battle.


In a separate incident at about the same time, US troops were attacked with RPGs, also in east Baghdad, the statement said.


"Soldiers identified two separate RPG teams and returned fire, killing five criminals."


Iraqi officials, said that the fighting which has been focused in Sadr City, a sprawling Mahdi Army bastion, has spread to the adjoining district of Hussainiyah.


An interior ministry official said at least four people were killed there on Tuesday. The defence ministry put the toll in the fighting at seven dead, including two women, and 20 wounded, among them women and children.


The latest deaths have pushed the toll from fighting in east Baghdad since late March to more than 360, according to an AFP tally based on reports from Iraqi and US military officials.


The fighting began when Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki ordered a crackdown on Shiite militiamen in the southern city of Basra on March 25.


Clashes quickly spread to other Shiite areas of Iraq, and the fighting since April 6 has focused mainly on Sadr City.


In the northern city of Mosul, two people were killed and nine wounded on Wednesday when a suicide bomber blew himself up in a money exchange outlet in an attack that was followed minutes later by a car bomb blast in the street outside, police said.


Meanwhile the death toll from an attack by a female suicide bomber who blew herself up near a police station in Diyala province on Tuesday has risen to 18, the US military said.


It said seven Iraqi policemen and 11 civilians were killed in the attack in the town of Jalawla, 100 kilometres (60 miles) east of the provincial capital Baquba. (AFP)