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Baghdad bombs kill 20; patrols intensify

Published August 9, 2006

BAGHDAD - At least 20 people were killed Tuesday in a string of bombings in the center of Baghdad, as more American soldiers patrolled the streets of the capital in an attempt to quell sectarian violence.

Nearly 60 people were wounded in the blasts, police said.

The explosions began when three bombs went off simultaneously near the Interior Ministry in central Baghdad, killing 10 people and wounding eight, police Lt. Bilal Ali Majid said.

Two more bombs ripped through the main Shurja market, also in central Baghdad, killing 10 more civilians and wounding 50, police Lt. Mohammed Kheyoun said.

At least 13 other people were killed or found dead Tuesday, most in the Baghdad area, where tension between Sunnis and Shiites runs the highest.

The violence underscores the security crisis facing Baghdad, which prompted American commanders to send more U.S. soldiers to the capital in a renewed bid to curb sectarian killings and kidnappings.

U.S. officials said the latest phase of the security operation was launched Monday "to reduce the level of murders, kidnappings, assassinations, terrorism and sectarian violence in the city and to reinforce the Iraqi government's control of Baghdad."

A U.S. statement said about 6,000 additional Iraqi troops were being sent to the Baghdad area, along with 3,500 U.S. soldiers of the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team and 2,000 troops from the U.S. 1st Armored Division, which has served as the theater reserve force since November.

"Iraqi and Multinational Division-Baghdad soldiers will not fail the Iraqi people," said Maj. Gen. J.D. Thurman, commander of U.S. forces in the capital.

American officials have released few details of the new campaign, citing security.

More heavily armed U.S. soldiers were seen Tuesday on the streets of Ghazaliyah, one of the neighborhoods targeted in the first stage of the stabilization effort.

The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, said Sunni and Shiite groups were trying to reach agreements and sign pledges to end sectarian fighting.

"There's more that needs to be done," Khalilzad said. "There's a need for practical steps to move forward. I think they're heading in the right direction and this is the right government ... to tackle this issue of sectarian fighting."

Khalilzad was in Tikrit for ceremonies marking the formal transfer of security responsibility from the 101st Airborne Division to the Iraqi army across a wide area of northern Iraq.

Soldier tells of 'death walk'

BAGHDAD - A U.S. Army private on Tuesday described the ever-present fear of death among his colleagues, during a hearing to determine if he and five other soldiers should stand trial on charges of raping and murdering a 14-year-old girl and killing her family on March 12 near Mahmoudiya.

"You're just walking a death walk," Pfc. Justin Cross said at the hearing.

Prosecutors argued that arduous missions and frequent loss of life were no excuse for rape and murder.

"Murder, not war. Rape, not war. That's what we're here talking about today," the prosecutor, Capt. Alex Pickands, said in his closing argument before the three-day hearing concluded. "Cold food didn't kill that family. Personnel assignments didn't rape and murder that 14-year-old little girl."

Pickands said the suspects "gathered together over cards and booze and came up with a plan to rape and murder that little girl."

The hearing officer will forward a recommendation to the brigade commander, Col. Todd Ebel, who decides whether to order a trial.

Spc. James P. Barker, Sgt. Paul E. Cortez, Pfc. Jesse V. Spielman and Pfc. Bryan L. Howard are accused of raping and murdering the girl and killing her parents and 5-year-old sister.

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