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Sandstorm, rocket fire fill Green Zone

Mon., April 28, 2008

BAGHDAD – A barrage of rocket or mortar fire was aimed at the fortified Green Zone on Sunday as the capital was enveloped in a thick sandstorm.

At least two Iraqis were killed and 25 wounded by projectiles that apparently missed their targets and landed in surrounding neighborhoods, police said. There were no immediate reports of casualties inside the enclave, which houses the U.S. Embassy and Iraqi government offices.

U.S. and Iraqi officials typically blame such attacks on Shiite militiamen, who have been trading sporadic fire with government security forces since a crackdown targeted militants in the southern port city of Basra a month ago. Militiamen take advantage of the lack of U.S. air cover in poor weather to set up and fire their projectiles.

Skirmishing has continued in militia strongholds despite an appeal Friday by Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to end the bloodletting that has claimed hundreds of lives since the crackdown began. Al-Sadr, whose Mahdi Army militia has been a main target of the crackdown, said at the time that his recent threat of “open war” was aimed only at U.S.-led foreign forces, not Iraqi troops.

At least 16 people were killed and 49 injured in clashes since Saturday night in Sadr City, the cleric’s northeastern Baghdad stronghold, according to police and hospital officials in the vast district.

More than 712 rockets and mortar rounds have been launched in Baghdad in the last month, according to Brig. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, an Iraqi army spokesman.

He told reporters Sunday that most of the shells were made in Iran, which U.S. and Iraqi officials accuse of arming, funding and training breakaway factions of al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia. He did not explain how commanders had made that determination. Tehran denies the accusations.


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