baghdad, Iraq – Two US soldiers were killed and four injured in an ambush just hours after a suicide car bombing that killed 10 people, including the driver, in the same Baghdad neighborhood, the US military said Friday.
The troops from the 1st Armored Division were on a routine patrol in Sadr City, the largest Shiite Muslim enclave in Baghdad, when the ambush occurred about 8 pm Thursday, the military said.
Sheik Abdel-Hadi al-Daraji, an aide to a radical Shiite cleric opposed to US occupation, blamed the clash on the US soldiers, saying they opened fire first. An unknown number of armed supporters of the cleric—Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr—were killed and injured as they defended the movement’s ofﬁce in Sadr City, he said.
Staff at al-Thawra Hospital in Sadr City said one Iraqi was killed in the clash and at least seven were injured.
“The Americans arrived here in two Humvees. They came here to provoke us and to test our strength,” said Sayed Hashim al-Maqususi, an al-Sadr supporter. “They shot at us. We ﬁred back.”
He said US troops backed by tanks and low-ﬂying helicopters returned to the area early Friday, surrounding the ofﬁce, a white one-story building with a courtyard partly used for prayers. They remained in the area for about an hour before they left, he said.
At midday Friday, thousands of Shiites, many of them carrying green and black Shiite ﬂags, gathered on the street in front of al-Sadr’s ofﬁce for the weekly prayer service, when Shiite preachers deliver messages from the ﬁrebrand to his followers. Al-Sadr lives in Najaf but Sadr City, occupied by thousands of young, unemployed Shiites, is his main power base.
Al-Sadr’s gunmen sealed off streets leading to his ofﬁce, and hundreds of armed followers patrolled the area in advance of the prayer service.
The trouble in Sadr City started Thursday when a bomber crashed a white Oldsmobile loaded with explosives into a police station, killing himself and nine other people and wounding as many as 45. Across town, gunmen, including one dressed as a Muslim cleric, also shot and killed a Spanish military attache.
The violence came six months to the day after Baghdad fell to American forces, underscoring the predicament of a capital whose deliverance from Saddam Hussein’s tyranny has been repeatedly undermined by terrorism, attacks on U.S. forces and sectarian unrest.
The ancient city’s landscape is now lined with massive concrete blast barriers and coils of barbed wire outside hotels, government departments and along stretches of road near U.S. military bases. As in previous attacks, there was no claim of responsibility.
“It was a huge blast and everything became dark from the debris and sand. I was thrown to the ground,” said Mohammed Adnan, who sells watermelons opposite the police station.
Vegetable seller Fakhriya Jarallah said two of her sons were repairing the outside wall of the compound.
“I ran across the road like a madwoman to ﬁnd out what happened to my sons. But thanks to God they are both safe,” she said.
Policemen and some in the crowd that gathered outside the police station after the explosion offered an assortment of possible culprits ranging from non-Iraqi Arab militants to Saddam loyalists and Shiite radicals angry about a cleric’s arrest.
The killing of the Spanish military attache happened across town in the upscale Mansour area about 30 minutes before the car bombing.
Jose Antonio Bernal Gomez, an air force sergeant attached to Spain’s National Intelligence Center, was shot to death after four men, one dressed as a Muslim cleric, knocked on the door of his home, according to a Spanish diplomat in Baghdad who spoke on condition of anonymity.
A guard in the area, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said Gomez opened the door to the gunmen. When they tried to grab him, he ran outside and was shot. The guard said he heard six shots and Gomez was hit in the head at least once.
American, Iraqi and Spanish authorities were investigating the attack, U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.
Commenting on Thursday’s violence, L. Paul Bremer, the top U.S. ofﬁcial in Iraq, emphasized his government’s commitment to ﬁghting terrorism, branding the perpetrators of attacks in Iraq as individuals who have shown “wanton disregard” for the lives of innocent people.
In other developments Thursday:
_ Iraq’s national electricity network _ crippled by war, looting and sabotage _ has surpassed the production levels of the prewar period for the ﬁrst time in six months, Bremer reported.
_ U.S. troops arrested an Iraqi resistance leader believed to be responsible for scores of deadly attacks against American forces around Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit. They also uncovered a factory where deadly roadside bombs were being built.
_ A 4th Infantry Division soldier was killed in a rocket-propelled grenade attack on a U.S. convoy northeast of Baghdad, the military said.
_ U.S. soldiers conducted a raid Sunday near the Syrian border and detained 112 suspects, including a high-ranking ofﬁcial in the former Republican Guard, the miltary announced Thursday.
_ Bremer said Thursday he welcomed the White House’s decision for a new coordinating committee for Iraq. Bremer reports to the Defense Department, but it was disclosed earlier this week the White House had set up an oversight committee for Iraq operations.