Roadside bomb kills 2 U.S. soldiers in Baghdad

BAGHDAD, Iraq – A roadside bomb killed two American soldiers and wounded others in a series of attacks Saturday against occupation forces and their Iraqi allies, while tensions eased in the Shiite holy cities of Najaf and Kufa just weeks ahead of the transfer of sovereignty to the new Iraqi government.

Meanwhile, anti-U.S. Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr met in Najaf with Iraq’s most influential spiritual leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, for the first time since al-Sadr launched an uprising against coalition forces in April, an aide said.

Najaf and Kufa were calm as Iraqi police extended their control after a deal announced Thursday to remove gunmen loyal to al-Sadr from the streets.

Elsewhere, violence persisted, underscoring the security threat facing occupation forces and the government set to take power June 30.

Iraq’s new prime minister, Iyad Allawi, has called for a halt to attacks on Americans and other foreign soldiers, saying their presence would be needed after the transfer of sovereignty to help improve security.

Allawi said Saturday on Al-Jazeera television that security would be one of the major tasks of his new government. He criticized the U.S. decision last year to disband the Iraqi army after Saddam Hussein’s regime collapsed.

“We will try to resolve these problems, and we are looking forward to building a strong Iraq, based on love, peace and brotherhood,” Allawi said.

The roadside bombing, which occurred in eastern Baghdad, was the second fatal attack against American troops in the capital in as many days. Five U.S. soldiers were killed and five wounded Friday in an ambush near the Shiite neighborhood Sadr City, an al-Sadr stronghold.

Elsewhere in Sadr City, al-Sadr’s militiamen attacked an Iraqi police station, and American soldiers guarding the building returned fire, wounding at least one militiamen, witnesses said.

Assailants also ambushed two civilian sport utility vehicles, favored by Western civilian contractors, on the road to Baghdad’s international airport. An Iraqi Interior Ministry official said two or three people were killed,but he had no further information.

Another civilian car carrying Westerners was attacked Saturday in the northern city of Mosul. Police said one civilian was killed and three others were injured but they refused to identify them by nationality.

A rocket-propelled grenade also hit an Iraqi army recruiting center in Mosul, wounding 17 people, according to hospital officials and police. Attacks against such facilities appear aimed at discouraging Iraqis from joining security services, which are expected to assume a greater role in fighting insurgents after the transfer of power.

Late Saturday, residents reported an armed clash in Fallujah, the restive Sunni Muslim city that was the scene of heavy fighting between Marines and insurgents last April. However, a coalition spokesman said no U.S. personnel were involved in any action in the city, where security is in the hands of an Iraqi unit organized with U.S. support after the Marines lifted their siege in late April.

Al-Sadr briefed al-Sistani on the plan announced Thursday to pull back Shiite militiamen and U.S. forces from Shiite Islam’s holiest shrines, said Ahmed al-Shibani, a representative of al-Sadr’s office said.

“Al-Sistani has thanked (al-Sadr) for his efforts … to peacefully resolve this crisis,” al-Shibani said. “The agreement is moving is toward success and is on the right path.”

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