Rocket or mortar fire targets Green Zone amid sandstorm

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 at Iraqi troops.

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

The U. S. military said attack helicopters and an unmanned drone fired Hellfire missiles at groups of gunmen in three separate weekend incidents there, killing five.

American officials said they had no information on any civilian casualties.

Police and hospital officials also reported clashes Sunday between Shiite militiamen and U. S. and Iraqi forces in two southern Baghdad districts, which they said killed at least one person and wounded 15.

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 projectiles 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.

In other violence Sunday, police said a suicide car bomber attacked a police patrol on the east side of the Tigris River, killing at least three people and wounding 14. Such attacks are a signature of Sunni Arab militants.

The U. S. military said a woman traveling in the area in a taxi blew herself up when policemen drove by on motorcycles, killing at least one civilian bystander and wounding eight of the officers. It was not immediately clear whether they were describing the same incident reported by the police.

Two more people were killed and 16 wounded in a pair of car bombings in western Baghdad, police said. South of Kirkuk, an Iraqi soldier was killed in a drive-by shooting on his way home to Luqam village.

As of Sunday, at least 4,052 members of the U. S. military had been killed since the beginning of the Iraq War in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. The figure includes eight military civilians. At least 3,306 died as a result of hostile action, according to the military’s numbers.