US and Iraqi forces fought Shiite militiamen in Baghdad during a raid on a suspected death squad yesterday, in the latest bid to stem sectarian violence that has pushed the country to the brink of civil war.
A police source said two people were killed and 18 wounded during two hours of pre-dawn fighting in Sadr City, a stronghold of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose supporters are part of the ruling Shiite coalition.
The US military said it backed up Iraqi forces in a raid to detain "individuals involved in punishment and torture cell activities." One US soldier was hurt.
The US has boosted its troop levels in the Iraqi capital to prevent further escalation of sectarian violence, which is claiming around 100 lives every day and is sapping confidence in Iraq's new Shiite-led government.
It has vowed to confront the armed militias blamed for fanning tensions, but must tread carefully since some groups have close ties to parties in the new government.
BATTLE FOR BAGHDAD
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Sunday that the battle for Baghdad was the key to restoring security in Iraq and must deliver results fast.
"I've certainly talked to a lot of Iraqi leaders who believe that ... their test, is to deliver for the Iraqi people a better future, a less violent future, in the next several months," she said.
"Yes, there are violent people who want to use sectarianism and sectarian violence to stoke a sense of insecurity. They are going right at Baghdad because they recognize that that has a special significance to the country," she said.
US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has extended the tour of around US 3,700 troops from the 172nd Stryker Brigade, based in Mosul, which began arriving in Baghdad on Sunday.
A senior coalition officer said the reinforcements were aimed at winning the new government breathing space by stabilizing the situation in Baghdad, which Washington hopes it can use to kick-start reconciliation efforts.