U.S. strike kills Shiite militiamen, civilians

BAGHDAD — Dozens of fighters ambushed a U.S. patrol in Baghdad’s main Shiite militia stronghold Tuesday, firing rocket-propelled grenades and machine gun bursts as the American push into Sadr City increasingly faces pockets of close urban combat.

U.S. forces struck back with 200-pound guided rockets that devastated at least three buildings in the densely packed district that serves as the Baghdad base for the powerful Mahdi Army militia.

The U.S. military said 28 militiamen were killed as the U.S. patrol pulled back. Local hospital officials said dozens of civilians were killed or wounded.

Such street battles are increasingly becoming a hallmark of the drive into Sadr City and recall the type of head-on clashes last seen in large numbers during last year’s U.S. troop buildup in Baghdad and surrounding areas.

U.S. troops often have fought intense gun battles as they cleared neighborhoods in Baghdad and former Sunni insurgent havens such as Anbar and Diyala provinces. But roadside bombings and rocket or mortar volleys against bases have been the more frequent mode of attack in recent years.

Clashes have intensified in Sadr City since the Mahdi Army leader — Muqtada al-Sadr — reiterated his threat of an all-out war against U.S.-led forces last week. U.S. troops, meanwhile, find themselves increasingly drawn into the fight opened by the Iraqi government to cripple the power of Shiite militias.

Meanwhile, two U.S. soldiers were killed in northwestern Baghdad on Tuesday, the military said. One soldier died when his vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device. The other died of wounds sustained when he was attacked by small-arms fire, the military said in a statement.

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