BAGHDAD – A raging, daylong battle erupted in central Baghdad on Tuesday and four Iraqi soldiers were killed, 16 U.S. soldiers were wounded and a U.S. helicopter was hit by ground fire at the close of the second month of the massive security crackdown on the capital.
Sixty miles to the north, in the mostly Sunni city of Muqdadiyah, a woman with a suicide vest strapped beneath her black Muslim robe blew herself up in the midst of 200 Iraqi police recruits. The attack killed at least 16 men waiting to learn if they had been hired.
The security crackdown, which began Feb. 14 and will see nearly 170,000 American forces in Iraq by the end of May, has curbed some sectarian attacks and assassinations in the capital. But violence continues to flare in Baghdad and has risen markedly in nearby cities and towns.
The fierce fighting in central Baghdad shut down the Sunni-dominated Fadhil and Sheik Omar neighborhoods just after 7 a.m., the U.S. military said. After American and Iraqi troops came under fire during a routine search operation, helicopter gunships swooped in, engaging insurgents with machine gun fire.
Several blocks from the battle, a rocket slammed into a schoolyard basketball court, killing a 6-year-old boy. AP Television News videotape showed children’s backpacks and books still open on classroom desks, covered with shattered glass and debris. Blood was pooled on the dusty tile floor.
Police said it was a stray Katyusha rocket and that at least 17 were wounded – 15 students and two teachers.
The resumption of violence was in stunning contrast to Monday, when a 24-hour driving ban left the capital eerily quiet on the fourth anniversary of its capture by American forces.
But just hours after the ban was lifted before dawn Tuesday, artillery fire echoed across the city. By day’s end, at least 52 people were killed or found dead nationwide in strife confined mainly to Sunni enclaves.