Four U.S. Soldiers, at Least Seven Iraqi Police Killed in Explosions

BAGHDAD - Four American soldiers were killed in weekend explosions in Iraq, the U.S. military said yesterday.

A roadside bomb killed three soldiers and wounded another in Baghdad on Saturday, the military said. The soldiers were assigned to the 89th Military Police Brigade.

"Their vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device at approximately 12:20 p.m. in east Baghdad," a statement said.

A Task Force Lightning soldier assigned to the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, also died Saturday "as a result of an explosion while conducting operations" in Diyala province east of the Iraqi capital, another statement said. A second soldier from that unit was wounded, it said.

Battling Shi'ite militia

Iraqi police and soldiers fought Shi'ite militiamen who assaulted the police headquarters and provincial buildings with rocket-propelled grenades in the southern city of Samawah yesterday, authorities said. At least five police have been killed since the fighting began on Friday.

Northeast of Baghdad, a suicide bomber killed at least seven policemen and wounded 30 others at a police station in Muqdadiyah, 90 km northeast of the Iraqi capital, police said. Insurgents then launched six mortar rounds at the station.

Half an hour after the suicide attack yesterday, two roadside bombs exploded next to one another in Khanaqin, about 140 km northeast of Baghdad, close to the Iranian border, police said. The coordinated attacks wounded 18 civilians, some seriously.

Brig. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said five police have been killed in Samawah, and that a curfew was in place and reinforcements were on the way. He did not identify the gunmen, but police said they belonged to a militia formed by radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

A police official in Samawah said fighters from the militia, the Mahdi Army, attacked the police headquarters and provincial offices with rocket-propelled grenades, and deployed gunmen on rooftops. About 40 suspected militiamen were captured, the official said on condition of anonymity out of concern for his safety.

Al-Sadr has lost control of some elements of his militia, and it was unclear whether the gunmen in Samawah considered themselves loyal to the cleric or were a renegade group intent on local control.

Khalaf said tribal leaders were trying to intervene in an effort to stop the violence in Samawah, the capital of Muthana province. The city lies on the Euphrates River about 370 km southeast of Baghdad.

Muthana was under control of British forces until July, when it became the first province to revert to Iraqi control.

"No multinational forces are there at all," said Maj. Charlie Burbridge, spokesman for British forces in the neighboring province of Basra.

"From time to time, there have been clashes there," he said. "There are often tribal clashes, and rogue militias often exacerbate the situation. But the problem isn't big enough for provincial authorities to request help from multinational forces," he said. "We're ready to provide help if required, though."

The Italian military transferred neighboring Dhi Qar province to Iraqi troops in September. Last week, U.S. forces ceded control of Najaf, the third of Iraq's 18 provinces to be handed over to Iraqi forces.