BAGHDAD — Iraqi security forces battled Shiite gunmen south of Baghdad on Friday, raising tensions among rival factions of the country's majority religious community and straining a seven-month cease-fire proclaimed by the biggest Shiite militia.
The fighting in Kut, 100 miles southeast of Baghdad, broke out Thursday night when factions of the Mahdi Army, led by anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, attacked checkpoints throughout the city, officials said.
Two police officers and two gunmen were killed during the clashes in Kut, which ended Friday, according to Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf.
Also Friday, U.S. and Iraqi forces raided neighborhoods of southern Baghdad and Diwaniyah, 80 miles south of the capital, detaining suspected members of the Mahdi Army, Iraqi police said.
Sadr proclaimed a cease-fire last August and extended it indefinitely last month. Sadr, who led two uprisings against U.S.-led forces in 2004, told his followers to defend themselves if attacked.
Troop reduction: Senior military commanders have presented the Bush administration with proposals to put off plans for further reduction of troops in Iraq at least until the end of summer, military and administration officials said Friday. At the same time, the officials said, the proposals would limit new deployments to 12 months, instead of the current 15 months. President Bush is to discuss the proposals with the senior commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, in a videoconference on Monday.
Fallon won't testify: The Pentagon on Friday ruled out including Adm. William Fallon as a witness before Congress when top U.S. military and diplomatic officials in Baghdad testify next month on the way ahead in Iraq. Fallon's abrupt announcement March 11 that he was resigning, effective March 31, as chief of U.S. Central Command overseeing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan triggered accusations by Democrats in Congress that he was being forced out for publicly opposing launching a war against Iran.
Soldier killed: The U.S. military says an American soldier has been killed and four others wounded in an attack south of Baghdad. A statement said the soldier died of wounds sustained from indirect fire on Friday. The military uses the term to describe a rocket or mortar attack.