BAGHDAD, (AP) – U.S. and Iraqi troops raided Sadr City on Sunday, targeting Shiite insurgent cells in the Baghdad slum for a second day, while British forces stepped up pressure on Shiite militants in the southern city of Basra.
The raids came a day before Iranian and U.S. diplomats were to hold rare talks in Baghdad over how to end the violence in Iraq.
U.S. officials accuse Shiite-ruled Iran of training, financing and arming militants here, in a bid to fan sectarian tensions. Iran denies that and blames the presence of U.S. forces here for the violence.
Meanwhile, in Kut, 100 miles southeast of Baghdad, 70 police officers resigned Sunday morning and handed over their weapons. Police said they cited their fears of being targeted by anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militants.
Al-Sadr emerged from hiding on Friday with a call for Sunnis and Shiites to band together to force foreign troops out of Iraq. Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia has repeatedly battled with U.S. and British troops in the streets of Sadr City and Basra.
Hours after Sadr delivered a sermon in the holy Shiite city of Kufa, British and Iraqi troops killed the Mahdi Army commander in Basra in a gunfight. Militants responded with attacks on British troops and Iraqi forces there.
The attacks continued late Saturday and early Sunday when British camps in the city were shelled repeatedly, British troops said in a statement.
The British, meanwhile, carried out an arrest raid early Sunday when their forces were attacked with roadside bombs, rocket propelled grenades and small arms fire, the British said. The troops returned fire, killing three of their attackers. No British forces were injured. The troops also arrested four militants.
In Sadr City, U.S. and Iraqi forces carried out several raids targeting insurgent cells, arresting one suspect believed to be involved in smuggling Iran high-powered, armor piercing bombs from Iran that have been used against U.S. armored vehicles, the U.S. military said. The cell also has sent Iraqi militants to Iran for training, the military said.
During another raid in Sadr City, troops shot an approaching vehicle that ignored their signals to stop, the military said. No one was injured in the shooting, but the vehicle was set ablaze, the military said.
AP Television News footage showed several cars burned and destroyed in the street, including a van that was scorched black, had its windows knocked out and its upholstery incinerated. The footage also showed a house that appeared to have been ransacked.
Also Sunday, gunmen in two cars threw concussion grenades at a popular market in northern Baghdad and then opened fire at shoppers, killing one person and injuring eight others, police said. Later, the same gunmen ambushed a minibus, killing the driver, stealing the vehicle and abducting six passengers, police said.
The U.S. military also reported late Saturday the deaths of eight U.S. troops, bringing the number of soldiers killed so far this month to at least 100 and putting May on pace to become the deadliest month for U.S. troops here in more than 2 1/2 years.
One of those killed, a Marine, died in combat in Anbar province in western Iraq on Saturday.
Three U.S. soldiers were killed in Salahuddin province, north of Baghdad, when an explosion hit their patrol; another died in a roadside bombing in south Baghdad.
Late Friday, a soldier was killed in an ambush near Taji, north of the capital, and two other soldiers were hit by a roadside bomb on Wednesday in eastern Baghdad, the military said.