Saturday, June 24, 2006

Iraqis Call State of Emergency in Baghdad

Iraq's government clamped a state of emergency on Baghdad and ordered everyone off the streets Friday after U.S. and Iraqi forces battled insurgents armed with rocket-propelled grenades, hand grenades and rifles near the heavily fortified Green Zone.





The military also announced the deaths of five more U.S. troops in a particularly violent week for American forces that included the discovery of the brutalized bodies of two soldiers. Twelve U.S. servicemembers have died or been found dead this week.

The fierce fighting in the heart of Baghdad came despite a crackdown launched 10 days ago that put tens of thousands of U.S.-backed Iraqi troops on the streets as the new prime minister sought to restore a modicum of safety for the capital's 6 million people.

Iraqi and U.S. military forces clashed with heavily armed attackers throughout the morning Friday in the alleys and doorways along Haifa Street and within earshot of the Green Zone, which houses the U.S. and British embassies and Iraqi government headquarters.

Four Iraqi soldiers and three policemen were wounded before the area was sealed and searched house-to-house for insurgent attackers, police Lt. Maitham Abdul Razzaq said. U.S. and Iraqi forces also engaged in firefights with insurgents in the dangerous Dora neighborhood in south Baghdad.

Deadly clashes are not new to Haifa Street, a thoroughfare so dangerous that a sign at one Green Zone exit checkpoint warns drivers against using the street. But Friday's fighting was unusual in its scope and intensity, prompting Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to order everyone off all streets in the capital with just two hours notice and while Friday prayers were still in progress.

Clusters of women shrouded in black head-to-toe robes scurried along to beat the ban, and U.S. soldiers frisked men also dashing home against a backdrop of thick, black smoke rising above the white high-rise buildings of Haifa Street.

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