Blasts Kill Seven in Baghdad More Killed in Clashes

BAGHDAD (AFP)–Several blasts rocked Baghdad–killing seven people–including two Britons–while clashes between US troops and Shiite militiamen left 18 people dead in the populous Sadr City neighborhood.

Four people were killed and two wounded in an explosion that destroyed an armored civilian vehicle just outside the sprawling complex housing the US-led coalition that administers Iraq–a military spokesman’said Monday.

Two of those killed in the blast were British civilians–according to the British Foreign Office.

"These deaths are shocking and they show the risks that civilians and others have to take in order to assist the Iraqis in the necessary task of rebuilding and reconstructing their country," British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told reporters in Brussels.

Another three people–including a child–also were killed Monday in an explosion that destroyed their car only minutes before a US convoy drove by–witnesses said.

Meanwhile–US troops–who have vowed to wipe out Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr’s private army–clashed with the militia overnight in a neighborhood of Baghdad where he has strong support.

Hospital officials said 18 civilians were killed in the Sadr City neighborhood–but the coalition put the figure at 26 and said all were militiamen loyal to Sadr.

The military said US soldiers already had killed "an estimated 21" militiamen over the weekend after coming under small arms and rocket-propelled grenade fire in Sadr City.

US troops had announced the death of another 32 militiamen Sunday in Kufa–just a few kilometers (miles) from the holy city of Najaf where Sadr is holed up to escape arrest in connection with the killing of a rival cleric.

Twenty of those killed were felled during a battle in the compound of a Kufa mosque–the coalition said.

Sadr’s Mehdi Army has been involved in weeks of clashes with the occupation forces–mainly in central Iraq–after the coalition closed down his newspaper and threatened to arrest him.

Some of the fiercest battles were fought in the Shiite holy city of Karbala–but both sides moved out of the city over the weekend.

Coalition officials have made it clear they are determined to wipe out the armed militia.

The coalition’s military and civilian spokesmen have also said they feared violence could surge further as the date for a transfer of power nears.

The Coalition Provisional Authority is scheduled to hand over sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government on June 30–and US authorities have insisted they intended to stick to that date despite the violence.

Last week insurgents carried out two attacks against senior Iraqi political figures–killing the president of the coalition-installed Governing Council–Ezzedine Salim–in a suicide car bombing on May 17.

A similar attack on Saturday wounded deputy interior minister General Abdel Jabbari Yussef. Three guards–an unidentified woman and the attacker were killed in the blast.

Salim’s successor–Ghazi Ajil al-Yawar–said in an interview published Monday that the coalition must grant "full sovereignty" to the transitional government–which has yet to be formed.

"We will not agree to less," he told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.

The United States and Britain were to submit to the UN Security Council later Monday the first draft of a resolution to recognize a new Iraqi government and clear the way for foreign forces to remain in Iraq after the formal end of the occupation.

"Once we have full sovereignty–we will have the right to decide whether multinational forces go or stay," Yawar said.

But he added that the lack of security "means that we will need multinational forces…which we hope to broaden to include European Union troops and certain influential Arab countries."

He also said another two weeks were needed to set up the transitional government amid intense negotiations involving UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi–the Iraqi council and coalition officials.

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