BAGHDAD — A roadside bomb killed an American soldier in Baghdad on Saturday, capping the bloodiest week for U.S. troops in Iraq this year. Clashes persisted in Shiite areas, even as the biggest Shiite militia sought to rein in its fighters.
At least 13 Shiite militants were killed in the latest clashes in Baghdad's militia stronghold of Sadr City, the U.S. military said. Iraqi police said seven civilians also died in fighting, which erupted Friday night and tapered off Saturday.
The U.S. military said the American soldier was killed in a blast Saturday morning in northwestern Baghdad but did not say whether Shiite militiamen were responsible.
The death raised to at least 19 the number of American troopers killed in Iraq since April 6.
American casualties have risen with an outbreak of fighting in Baghdad between U.S. and Iraqi forces and the largest Shiite militia — the Mahdi Army of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
Sadr, who is believed to be in Iran, repeated on Saturday his demand for American soldiers to leave the country and urged his fighters not to target fellow Iraqis "unless they are helping the (U.S.) occupation."
Sadr also blamed the Americans and their Iraqi allies for the assassination Friday of one of his top aides, Riyadh al-Nouri, director of his office in the Shiite holy city of Najaf.
Gunmen ambushed Nouri as he was returning home from Friday prayers, and Sadr followers shouted anti-American slogans at his funeral in Najaf.
Despite the rhetoric, there were signs that Sadr was trying to calm his militia to avoid all-out war with the Americans. Sadr is also under pressure from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, also a Shiite, to disband the Mahdi Army or face a ban from politics.
In a move to bolster its image among Sadr City residents, the government Saturday lifted a ban on entering and leaving the district, home to about 2.5-million people. Police announced that one of the entrances had been opened to motor traffic.
Army patrols warned residents through loudspeakers to keep off the streets, saying the rebels had planted roadside bombs which needed to be cleared by the security forces.
15 bodies found
in mass grave
Confessions from Shiite militiamen led Saturday to the discovery of 15 more bodies dumped in mass graves south of Baghdad, officials said — the second such find last week. The grisly discovery in Mahmoudiya came two days after Iraqi troops found the remains of 30 people believed to have been killed more than a year ago and buried in three abandoned houses elsewhere in the area. Mass graves have been turning up with increasing frequency as American and Iraqi military operations have cleared former militant strongholds. The others have all been mainly in Sunni areas in Anbar province to the west and Diyala to the north of the capital. Those areas had been dominated by al-Qaida in Iraq until the group's brutal tactics helped turn Sunni tribal leaders against it.
Bush defends halt to troop pullout
President Bush, defending his decision to halt withdrawals of U.S. troops after July, said Saturday that Iraqis are shouldering more responsibility for securing their future. The United States will stay on the offense, support the Iraqi security forces and move toward an oversight role, Bush said in his latest effort to garner support for the unpopular war. He used his Saturday radio address to promote his war policy, even though his approval rating hit a new low of 28 percent in an AP-Ipsos survey last week. Bush said U.S. forces are continuing to transfer more security responsibilities to the Iraqi security forces. He said that Iraq's economy was growing, and that Iraq was assuming responsibility for nearly all the funding of large-scale reconstruction projects.
Secret deal shows arms problems
An $833-million Iraqi arms deal secretly negotiated with Serbia has underscored Iraq's continuing problems equipping its armed forces, a process that has long been plagued by corruption and inefficiency. The deal was struck in September by a delegation of 22 Iraqi officials without the knowledge of American commanders or many senior Iraqi leaders. Much of the equipment, American commanders said, turned out to be either shoddy or inappropriate for the military's mission. Iraqi officials later limited the purchase to $236-million. Iraq's defense minister, Abdul Qadir, defended the arms purchase, saying he had followed proper contracting protocols and had informed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki every step of the way.
Chevron, Total discuss oil deal
Oil giants Chevron Corp. and Total have confirmed that they are in discussions with the Iraqi Oil Ministry to increase production in an important oil field in southern Iraq. The discussions are aimed at finalizing a two-year deal, or technical support agreement, to boost production at the West Qurna Stage 1 oil field near Iraq's second-largest city of Basra. Chevron and Total confirmed their involvement in the discussions in e-mails received Saturday by the Associated Press.