BAGHDAD – At least 16 people are now reported dead in clashes today between security forces and Shiite militiamen in Baghdad, the fifth anniversary of the fall of the Iraqi capital to U.S. forces.
The heavily fortified Green Zone, which houses diplomatic missions and much of Iraq’s government, has also come under renewed attack by rockets and mortars.
That despite a daylong vehicle ban apparently aimed at preventing Shiite gunmen from moving freely about the city.
The U.S. embassy says there are no immediate reports of casualties in the Green Zone attacks.
Iraqi police say seven of the 16 people killed in Baghdad’s Sadr City neighbourhood – including three children – died when projectiles slammed into a house. Hospital officials say 27 others were wounded.
The sprawling slum is a stronghold of the Mahdi Army militia of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
No details were available on the other deaths reported in Baghdad on Wednesday.
The bloodshed was a stark reminder of Iraq’s continuing instability five years after U.S. troops swept into Baghdad and toppled Saddam Hussein’s on April 9, 2003.
The euphoria of victory of that victory soon dissipated – pummelled first by a Sunni insurgency, then Sunni-Shiite slaughter and now battles against Shiite militiamen.
With tensions high in Baghdad on the anniversary, the U.S.-backed Iraqi military ordered vehicles and motorcycles off the streets from 5 a.m. until midnight.
The vehicle ban was imposed despite a decision by al-Sadr to call off his “million-strong” demonstration, set for Wednesday, to demand an end to the American military presence.
On Tuesday, Iraqi military spokesman Brig.-Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi said a total of 82 insurgents, 36 civilians and 37 soldiers had been killed since March 16 in fighting in Baghdad, mostly in Sadr City. The total soared above 50 with Wednesday’s fighting.
The U.S. military said Wednesday that an American soldier had died from non-combat related injuries.
At least 12 American service members have died in Iraq since Sunday, and the shelling of the Green Zone has become almost a daily occurrence.
In Washington, U.S. commander Gen. David Petraeus called Tuesday for an open-ended suspension of U.S. troop withdrawals this summer because of concern over the renewed fighting.
Meanwhile, the U.S. military also announced that its special forces uncovered a large weapons cache last week in the Jazeera Desert in northwestern Iraq.
The arms, located in an abandoned Iraqi air force radar station, included shoulder-launched SA-7 surface-to-air missiles, rockets, heavy machine-guns, mortars, ammunition and hand grenades.
In another development, a Sunni Arab clerical group said Wednesday that tribesmen who broke with al-Qaida and now work with the Americans have assassinated at least six freed prisoners in Haditha, a town in Anbar province.
“We are witnessing the killing of several people released from the occupation detention centres by men belonging to the awakening projects,” the Association of Muslim Scholars said, referring to the “awakening councils” that have been a key element of the U.S. strategy to pacify Sunni areas.
Residents contacted by telephone said some awakening council members were taking revenge on former detainees who had killed their relatives when the area was under the control of al-Qaida. They spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear for their own safety.
Haditha police confirmed the recent killings but gave no details.