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More Than 40 People Killed in Bloody Day for Iraq
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Five U.S. soldiers were among more than 40 people killed in a spate of attacks in Iraq on Saturday, the latest violence in the bloodiest month for U.S.-led forces since they toppled Saddam Hussein.
In one of the worst incidents of the day, at least 13 Iraqis were killed and 30 were wounded when rockets or mortar bombs struck a busy market in the Shi'ite Muslim area of Sadr City in Baghdad, witnesses and hospital sources said.
"There was blood and bodies everywhere," said Bassam Abdul Rahim.
Angry residents of Sadr City -- a powerbase of rebel Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr who U.S.-led forces have vowed to kill or capture -- held up bloodied human remains to television cameras and said U.S. helicopters had fired at the market.
They put a sign on a dead donkey saying: "This is Bush."
One woman was killed in a separate attack in the same area when a mortar bomb hit her home. Her daughter was wounded.
The U.S. military said it had no immediate information on the incidents in Sadr City.
SADR A WANTED MAN
Sadr, who U.S. officials say is wanted by an Iraqi judge in connection with the murder of another cleric, is holed up with his Mehdi Army militia in the southern city of Najaf, a holy site to Iraq's Shi'ite majority.
On Friday, Sadr threatened to unleash suicide bombers if he was attacked by U.S. forces poised just outside the city.
U.S. forces say are allowing time for Iraqi mediators to resolve the standoff.
Fourteen Iraqis were killed when a bus, traveling to Baghdad just ahead of a convoy of six U.S. military vehicles, was hit by a roadside bomb.
The five U.S. soldiers were killed in a guerrilla rocket attack on a U.S. base just north of Baghdad, a U.S. military spokesman said. Six other soldiers were wounded.
U.S. helicopter gunships destroyed the truck from which the rockets were launched, but there was no word of casualties among the guerrillas.
Since U.S.-led forces invaded Iraq in March last year to oust Saddam, 515 U.S. soldiers have been killed in action -- more than a fifth of them this month.
In Saddam's home town of Tikrit, a car bomb killed three policemen and wounded 16 people -- 12 of them police. It appeared to be a suicide attack.
Polish soldiers killed five Iraqi gunmen who opened fire on their patrol in the holy city of Kerbala, south of Baghdad, Polish military officials said.
West of Baghdad, U.S. Marines were poised to resume an offensive in the Sunni town of Falluja unless guerrillas turned over heavy weapons.
U.N. ENVOY URGES AGAINST SHOOTING
Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations special envoy to Iraq who is trying to put together an interim Iraqi government to take over from U.S.-led occupation authorities on June 30, urged the Marines to hold off.
"I think that there is always a better solution than shooting your way into anywhere," Brahimi said.
A few families who fled fierce fighting in Falluja earlier this month returned to the battle-scarred city on Saturday, hours after Iraq's U.S. Governor Paul Bremer said "major hostilities could resume at short notice."
Brahimi said he wanted the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council to be dissolved on June 30 and its politicians to be excluded from the interim government of technocrats he thinks should see Iraq through to elections in January 2005.
In an interview with U.S. TV network ABC to be broadcast on Sunday, Brahimi dismissed the idea of expanding the existing 25-member council.
"The fear is that, you know, as somebody put it, perhaps a bit too unkindly, they will clone themselves. And why do you want to have that?" said the former Algerian foreign minister.
UPSURGE IN VIOLENCE
The upsurge in violence this month -- including a series of car bombs in the southern Shi'ite city of Basra that killed 73 people -- has unnerved several countries with troops in Iraq.
Spain, Honduras and the Dominican Republic have said they are withdrawing and Washington is trying to persuade other states to remain after June 30, saying fledgling Iraqi forces cannot cope on their own.
President Bush acknowledged "tough work" lay ahead, saying the "enemies of freedom" would kill anyone in their campaign to stop a democratic Iraq emerging.
"But the stakes are too high for us to leave," Bush said on Friday at a fund-raising meeting in Florida for his campaign to be re-elected in November.
Britain said it might send more troops to replace the Spanish, but several other countries are committed to staying only until the end of June. (Additional reporting by Fiona O'Brien, Mussab Khairalla, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, Seif Fouad, Sami al-Jumaili)
More than 20 Iraqis have been killed in separate incidents across the country, including 11 who died after rockets or mortar bombs slammed into a busy market in a Shia suburb of Baghdad.
Witnesses said at least two projectiles hit the chicken market in the Ourfalli neighbourhood of al-Sadr City on Saturday.
Abd Al-Jabbar al-Zubaidi, director of a nearby hospital, said several of the wounded were in critical condition.
It was not immediately clear who had fired the weapons.
Later on Saturday, a roadside bomb killed 14 Iraqis travelling by bus to Baghdad and 12 others were wounded, according to a doctor.
Abbas Wissan al-Shamari, a doctor at the hospital in the town of Iskandariya, 50 km south of Baghdad, said the bus was taking people to the capital but he had no immediate further details.
Witnesses said the bus was driving just ahead of a convoy of six US military vehicles when the roadside bomb, a favourite weapon against the occupying forces, exploded.
Local people rushed to the scene from a nearby village to help the injured and dead to hospital, the witnesses said.
They said US troops sealed off the area.
Occupation troops' fire
Also on Saturday, one Iraqi died and three others, all sisters, were badly burned after US troops opened fire in the area, sparking a fire which gutted several cars and spread to homes nearby, residents and doctors said on Saturday.
The US military said it had no information about the incident in al-Sadr City, a poor Shia district where resistance to the US-led occupation is strong.
Residents said US soldiers driving through the district during the night had fired randomly leaving many buildings damaged.
Several buildings had bullet holes in their walls, both inside and outside. Angry residents pointed to the remains of a burnt out minibus and two charred cars. The fire spread to at least two houses
"Yesterday, our hospital received one patient who was injured and one who was killed, and three girls from one family who were burnt," Qasim Saddam, a doctor at al-Thawra General Hospital said.
"The girls are between 10 and 14."
In the hospital, one of the girls lay unconscious, the skin burnt off her face and arms. Her younger sister screamed as doctors applied cream to her burns.
Al-Sadr City is the Baghdad powerbase of Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr and named after his father.
US forces have often been ambushed in the area and there have been heavy clashes there between American soldiers and militiamen.
US Marines killed around 30 Iraqi fighters overnight in a firefight near the flashpoint town of Falluja, Colonel John Coleman said on Saturday.
Marines spotted a small group of armed men, one with a mortar, and shot at them near a small village on the banks of the Euphrates, he said at the US base of Camp Falluja, just outside the town.
The fighters were joined by about 30 others and the Marines called in air support, Coleman, the chief of staff of the Marine Expeditionary Force, told reporters.
He said all the fighters were killed in the action, but gave no other details.
Local doctors say about 600 people were killed earlier this month in an occupation siege of Falluja following the killing of four American contractors.
Bodybags continued to pile up for the US occupation forces. Five US soldiers were killed and six wounded on Saturday when rebels fired two rockets from a truck into their base north of Baghdad, a US military spokesman said.
The spokesman said the attack with two 57-mm rockets at the base near the town of Taji started at 05:00 am (01:00 GMT). Three of the wounded were listed as critical with the remaining three in serious condition, he said.
US helicopter gunships were called into action and destroyed the truck from which the rockets were launched. The spokesman did not mention any other casualties.
Two more US soldiers were killed and one wounded on Saturday in an attack on a convoy near the southern Iraqi city of Kut, the local police chief said.
More than 510 US soldiers have been killed in action since US-led forces invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam Hussein.
More than 100 of those died this month, making April the deadliest month for US forces in Iraq.
Earlier in the day five rebels who were preparing an ambush near Iraq's holy Shia city of Karbala were killed by a Polish patrol, a spokesman for the Polish contingent said.
Elsewhere in central Iraq, an Iraqi civilian was burnt alive in his vehicle after it came under fire near an occupation troop base early on Saturday, according to hospital sources.
Falah Hasan Abid, 27, was found in his burning Datsun pickup truck near the base located between Kufa and Najaf.
Also on Saturday, a car bomb exploded in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit north of Baghdad causing several casualties.
"A vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (car bomb) blew up near a shopping centre at about 08:40 this morning (04:40 GMT)," Master Sergeant Robert Powell told Reuters news agency.
"There appear to be a few casualties but we don't have a definite number on civilian casualties."
He said no US soldiers were injured in the explosion. Tikrit,
175 km north of the capital has been relatively quiet in recent months despite strong support there for the deposed Iraqi president.
Aljazeera + Agencies