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Two U.S. soldiers among dead in Baghdad attacks

New York Times

BAGHDAD - A series of explosions, including one that struck a U.S. military patrol, shook Baghdad on Sunday, killing 20 people, including two U.S. soldiers and eight Iraqi policemen, according to an Iraqi security official.

The attacks, 17 in all, marked one of the more violent days in the capital in recent months, and demonstrated that Iraqi authorities are still struggling to stem the mayhem directed against security forces as the United States prepares to withdraw its troops by the end of the year.

At least 80 people were wounded in the attacks, including three U.S. soldiers.

There were bombings in both Shiite and Sunni neighborhoods, including two in Sadr City, the stronghold of the radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, but it was unclear whether they were coordinated. Insurgents have often attacked both groups simultaneously, in an attempt to incite sectarian strife and further destabilize the country.

Even though violence is down considerably from levels at the height of the sectarian warfare in 2007, experts say that insurgents still have the ability and motivation to mount serious attacks.

"Politically, the country is still very unsettled and there are many groups who still believe that violence serves their ends," said Ken Pollack, an expert on national security issues at the Brookings Institution, a think tank in Washington.

He added: "A number of Sunni and Shiite extremist groups believe that the government remains dependent on American military support, and are hoping to demonstrate that once the U.S. troops leave, the government will be unable to maintain law and order."

The pace of attacks has quickened in recent weeks as lawmakers in Baghdad weigh whether to ask the United States to keep some troops in Iraq after 2011.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has said he would support troops remaining if a majority of Iraqis backed him. However, Sadr has threatened to call off a cease-fire and order his powerful militia to attack any U.S. forces that remain.

The attacks appeared to fit a recent pattern of violence in Baghdad. On May 15, insurgents fired rockets and mortars at the heavily fortified Green Zone, detonated explosives and assassinated government officials, killing six people and wounding dozens.

The U.S. patrol came under attack around 5 p.m. in west Baghdad, just a few miles from Camp Victory, the sprawling U.S. military base next to Baghdad International Airport. Insurgents detonated a bomb near a Humvee in the patrol, killing two soldiers and wounding three, according to the security official.

The U.S. military said in a written statement that two U.S. soldiers had been killed in an operation in central Baghdad. The release said the episode was under investigation, but provided no other details.

In recent years, the U.S. military has patrolled Iraq with the newer mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles instead of Humvees, because they are designed to withstand blasts. However, in the cities the military still uses some Humvees because they are lighter and less likely to damage roads.

Another U.S. military patrol was attacked north of the city of Baqubah, wounding one soldier, according to the U.S. military.

The attacks in Baghdad followed three explosions two days ago in the northern city of Kirkuk, killing 29 people, including many police officers, and wounding dozens.