Green Zone hit by barrage of artillery
Roadside bomb kills 3 US troops north of Baghdad
BAGHDAD - The heavily fortified Green Zone was hit by a sustained barrage of rocket or mortar fire early this morning, one day after a roadside bomb killed three American soldiers north of the capital, pushing the US death toll in the five-year conflict to nearly 4,000.
Also yesterday, Iraqi authorities reported that a US air strike north of the capital killed six members of a US-backed Sunni group - straining relations with America's new allies in the fight against Al Qaeda.
Two Iraqi civilians also died in the roadside bombing, which occurred as the Americans were patrolling an area northwest of the capital, the US military said in a statement.
Two of the soldiers were killed in the blast and the third died of injuries sustained in the blast, the statement said. The soldiers were assigned to Multinational Division-Baghdad, the statement said, but gave no further details.
The latest deaths brought to 3,996 the number of US service members and Pentagon civilians who have died since the war began on March 20, 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
It was not immediately clear today where most of the missiles landed in the Green Zone or if there were any casualties, according to Reuters. The US military has blamed past missile attacks on rogue elements of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia. Sadr last month renewed a seven-month old cease-fire for his militia.
A large plume of thick black smoke could be seen rising from one area of central Baghdad's Green Zone, which houses the Iraqi parliament and many government ministries as well as the US embassy and other diplomatic missions.
The barrage, which started just before 6 a.m., came in three separate volleys and lasted for a total of about 16 minutes.
With the war entering its sixth year, President Bush paid tribute yesterday to America's fallen service members, saying in his weekly radio address that they will "live on in the memory of the nation they helped defend."
Speaking for the Democrats, however, Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey called on Bush to "face the reality" in Iraq and "tell us the truth" about the cost of the conflict as America is struggling with a faltering economy and mounting casualty tolls.
US officials have pointed to a number of positive signs, including a 60 percent drop in violence since Bush ordered 30,000 US reinforcements to Iraq early last year.
Iraqis have also made some limited progress in power-sharing deals among rival Shi'ite, Sunni, and Kurdish communities.
However, US military commanders have been careful to point out that security gains are fragile and that major violence could erupt abruptly.
Much of the progress has been due to a move by thousands of Sunnis to abandon the insurgency and join pro-US defense groups known as Awakening Councils. Another was a cease-fire called last August by Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, leader of the feared Mahdi Army militia.
Yesterday, a US attack helicopter fired on two checkpoints manned by US-allied Sunni fighters near Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, killing six and injuring two, Iraqi police said.
The US military said an AH-64
Material from Reuters was included in this report.