BAGHDAD – A sniper round felled a U.S. soldier in the Arab Jabour district south of Baghdad. His compatriots charged for a house where they thought the gunman was holed up.
One stepped on a buried, pressure-triggered bomb at the house. That soldier and three others died and four more were wounded in the blast.
The soldiers were assigned to Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch’s Task Force Marne. He said the sophisticated attack that killed his forces Saturday was a new tactic and the work of al-Qaida in Iraq.
“As we surged, the enemy surged,” Lynch said in a telephone interview Sunday. “We do indeed make safety and security our first priority, but we are not going to stop taking the fight to the enemy.”
Lynch said al-Qaida in Iraq had operated freely in the area before his troops flooded the region as part of the six-month-old American drive to calm Baghdad and central Iraq.
With the deaths, at least 3,690 members of the U.S. military have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
Iraq’s most senior Sunni politician, meanwhile, issued a desperate appeal Sunday for Arab nations to help stop what he called an “unprecedented genocide campaign” by Shiite militias armed, trained and controlled by Iran.
Adnan al-Dulaimi said “Persians” and “Safawis,” Sunni terms for Iranian Shiites, were on the brink of total control in Baghdad and soon would threaten Sunni Arab regimes that predominate in the Mideast.
“It is a war that has started in Baghdad and they will not stop there but will expand it to all Arab lands,” al-Dulaimi said in an e-mail to the AP.
Sunni Arab regimes throughout the Middle East fear the growing influence of Iran’s Shiite theocracy with radical groups like Hezbollah and Hamas as well as the Syrian regime. Raising the specter of Iranian power reaching the Arab doorstep, unlikely in the near term, betrayed al-Dulaimi’s desperation.
But his fears of a Shiite takeover of Baghdad were not as farfetched. Mahdi Army militiamen have cleansed entire neighborhoods of Sunni residents and seized Sunni mosques. Day by day, hundreds have been killed and thousands have fled their homes, seeking safety in the shrinking number of majority Sunni districts.
Sunni extremists, many with al-Qaida links, are responsible too, mainly through massive bombings, often carried out by suicide attackers.
Like al-Dulaimi, the United States accuses Iran of providing the Shiite militia with sophisticated armor-piercing roadside bombs, other weapons and training in Iran. Iran denies the allegations.
Al-Dulaimi resorted to the harsh language a day after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, returned from his second visit to Tehran since taking power 14 months ago.
The outburst reflected growing anger in the Sunni establishment over perceptions of al-Maliki as a deeply biased sectarian leader with links to Iran.
“Arabs, your brothers in the land of the two rivers and in Baghdad in particular are exposed to an unprecedented genocide campaign by the militias and death squads that are directed, armed and supported by Iran,” al-Dulaimi said.
And he castigated fellow Sunnis in the Middle East, saying they “did not make any move and did not even bother to denounce what is taking place against your brothers at the hands of Iranian militias and death squads.”