BAGHDAD -- US warplanes bombed suspected insurgent positions in a restive slum of the Iraqi capital yesterday and early today, and hospital officials said 10 people, including civilians, were killed.
The airstrikes in Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood underscored how US forces are stepping up their firepower in their battle against insurgents. Such aerial attacks have become increasingly common in Sadr City, Fallujah, and other regions where anti-American militants still exert significant control.
The strikes also raise questions about whether a fragile peace agreement with militiamen loyal to radical Shi'ite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr will hold. Tensions have been rising in recent days between Sadr followers and US forces in Sadr City and in the holy city of Najaf, south of Baghdad, where the two sides ended a bloody standoff last month.
Insurgents yesterday continued their attacks against US soldiers and Iraqi security forces. Seven Iraqi National Guard members were killed in two car bombings: four died in a blast in Mosul, and another explosion killed three others at a checkpoint near Fallujah, police officials told the Associated Press.
This month alone, 34 car bombs have been detonated in Iraq, the highest monthly tally since the war began in March 2003, US military officials said.
Two US soldiers died yesterday. In Balad, north of Baghdad, a First Infantry Division soldier was killed when insurgents opened fire on his patrol, which was responding to a traffic accident that had killed another US solider earlier.
The two deaths brought the number of US soldiers killed in Iraq this month to 77, according to a compilation of Pentagon news releases by globalsecurity.org, making September the fourth-deadliest month for American forces since the invasion was launched. At least 1,049 US military deaths have occurred since the start of the war, according to a Pentagon tally yesterday.
With Iraqi parliamentary elections set for January, US military officials are planning to accelerate efforts in the coming months to crack down on insurgents and restore peace.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said Sunday that a "major thrust" of US efforts in Iraq in the near future will be to eliminate "no-go" areas where US and Iraqi government forces and aid agencies cannot freely enter. The attacks in Sadr City early yesterday, last night, and this morning were part of the new effort.
US officials said they killed four insurgents yesterday and destroyed several enemy positions in Sadr City with a "precision strike" on "positively identified targets." Witnesses said the first attacks began about 1 a.m. and lasted several hours.
"We were terrified because the strikes were random," said Majeed Minshed, 23, a Sadr City resident. "By the time it was over, we did not believe we were still alive."
Sabah Abaas, an emergency room medical assistant at Jawader Hospital, reported 10 fatalities and 71 injuries, including some children.
US officials called reports of civilian casualties "suspect" but said they would investigate. They suggested civilian deaths may have been caused by insurgents responding to the US attack by firing four mortars at an American base. Three of the mortars missed and landed outside the base. One civilian vehicle was destroyed, military officials said.
Rising civilian deaths have put US officials on the defensive. According to Iraqi Health Ministry officials, nearly 3,200 Iraqi civilians have died since April in terrorist attacks and clashes between US forces and insurgents.
US officials insist that the civilian toll has been exaggerated. A senior military official called reports of civilian deaths in Fallujah "propaganda" and suggested that local hospitals have been infiltrated by insurgent forces.
Amid the intensified violence, US officials said yesterday that the National Intelligence Council had warned in two classified reports to the Bush administration two months before the war that a US-led invasion would result in a deeply divided Iraqi society prone to violent internal conflict, The New York Times reported today.
According to the Times, officials said one of the reports prepared by the council warned of a possible insurgency against the new Iraqi government or US-led forces, saying that rogue elements from Saddam Hussein's government could work with existing terrorist groups or act independently to wage guerrilla warfare.
The council is an independent group that advises the director of central intelligence.
In other developments yesterday, kidnapped Iranian diplomat Faridoun Jihani was freed, Iranian Embassy officials said in a statement. Jihani, who worked in the Iranian consul in the city of Karbala, south of Baghdad, was abducted Aug. 4 by a group calling itself the Islamic Army of Iraq.
And Jordan's King Abdullah II said two female Italian aid workers who were abducted and reported killed are alive. Negotiations for their release are continuing, he said.
An estimated 140 foreigners have been abducted in Iraq.
The US military, meanwhile, announced a second set of murder charges in as many weeks against members of the same Army battalion deployed in Baghdad.
The statement identified the latest two US soldiers to be charged as Staff Sergeant Johnny Horne Jr. and Staff Sergeant Cardenas Alban, both from Company C, First Battalion, 41st Infantry Regiment from Fort Riley, Kan.
Material from the Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.