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Published Feb. 20, 2008

As many as 15 Iraqi police officers responding to an attack against U.S. bases were killed Tuesday when rockets, set to be launched from the back of a truck, exploded before the officers could defuse them, officials said.

Four U.S. soldiers were wounded when the initial rockets slammed into two of their outposts in the capital, the military said. It was the second rocket attack against U.S. targets in as many days. Five Iraqi civilians died in Monday's attack.

Nobody claimed responsibility for the attacks, but in both cases the rockets apparently were launched from Shiite militia strongholds in the capital, raising concern about renewed activity ahead of a deadline for cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to renew a cease-fire order. The U.S. military has expressed hope the radical cleric will extend the cease-fire.

The two American outposts that were hit were close to each other, according to Sgt. Nicole Dykstra, a military spokeswoman.

The blast that killed the Iraqis took place after police, acting on a tip, discovered the rockets primed for firing in the back of a truck behind a deserted factory in the predominantly Shiite area of Obeidi in eastern Baghdad.

Explosives experts were trying to defuse the rockets when two of them detonated in quick succession, police said, adding that two rockets already had been fired from the truck.

At least 15 police officers were killed and 27 were wounded in the blast, according to officials with the Interior Ministry, local police and hospitals that received the wounded. All spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.

The U.S. military gave a lower casualty toll, saying three civilians were killed and 17 wounded in the truck explosion.


Iraq developments

Shorter deployments: The Army's top general, George Casey, said Tuesday that soldiers heading to war this summer are likely to see their tours shortened from 15 months to 12 months.

Roundup ordered: The Iraqi Interior Ministry has ordered police to round up beggars, vagabonds and the mentally disabled from the streets of Baghdad to prevent them from being used by insurgents as suicide bombers, a spokesman said Tuesday.

Trial delayed: The trial of two former Iraqi officials accused of letting Shiite militiamen use ambulances and hospitals to kidnap and kill rivals was delayed Tuesday because prosecution witnesses failed to show up.