Three US soldiers die in Iraq, toll nears 4,000

Updated: 2008-03-22 22:24

In February, CLCs in Jurf al-Sukr, south of Baghdad, said U.S. forces killed three of their number, and in the same month, neighborhood patrols in Diyala province, north of Baghdad, temporarily stopped working to demand more pay and the removal of a local police chief.

The southern Baghdad districts of Shurta and Hay al-Amil and the southern city of Kut were reported to be quiet on Saturday after Mehdi Army fighters loyal to Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr clashed with Iraqi and U.S. forces a day earlier.

Sadr imposed a unilateral ceasefire on his unruly militia last August and extended it last month, a move U.S. commanders say has helped to reduce violence in Iraq.

But the gunbattles in Baghdad and Kut have raised fears that it may be unraveling at a time when the U.S. military is in the process of withdrawing 20,000 troops.

Mehdi Army fighters have complained that the truce ties their hands and opens them to attack by rival Shi'ite factions and U.S. forces. U.S. commanders say they only target Mehdi Army units that have ignored Sadr's ceasefire order.

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