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Mortar attacks kill 2, injure 10 in Baghdad's Green Zone

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Mortar rounds lobbed into Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone on Wednesday killed two Iraqis and wounded 10 other people, marking the second day in a row that hostile fire has resulted in casualties in an area long considered a refuge from the city's violence.

The U.S. Embassy said eight Iraqis and two non-American foreigners were wounded. None of the dead or injured worked for the embassy, officials said.

On Tuesday, a rocket and perhaps two mortar rounds hit in the Green Zone, injuring eight contractors, all non-American foreigners. On Monday, a mortar round struck in the Green Zone without injuring anyone.

The growing number of attacks in the zone, including last month's suicide bombing that killed an Iraqi lawmaker in the parliament building, has heightened concerns among State Department employees in the zone that it's no longer secure. Three State Department officials who asked not to be identified for fear they'd be fired told McClatchy Newspapers earlier this week that they think the embassy should trim staff amid rising concerns about attacks.

Embassy officials have declined to make specific comments but have said that appropriate measures are in place to protect workers.

The apparent rise in rocket and mortar attacks in the Green Zone highlights the problems of securing Baghdad, despite the recent buildup of American troops in the capital by nearly 20,000. While mortars are notoriously inaccurate, they're a favorite for guerrillas and difficult to counter in a densely populated city.

"You can put it in the back of your Toyota, fire it and be on your way in a matter of minutes," said Winslow Wheeler, the director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information. "It's light, flexible, simple and transportable. That's why insurgents used them in Vietnam and Afghanistan."

A well-trained crew might launch several rounds a minute and expect to hit with an accuracy of 50 yards. A ragtag bunch operating out of a Baghdad slum probably wouldn't hit so precisely. But Winslow noted that "the Green Zone is a big target and anything that hits there is going to get on the news."

Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, wouldn't say whether military officials know the source of this week's attacks. Properly deployed, American military technology should be able to pinpoint the location from which the mortars or rockets launched.

But responding when the fire's origin is an area dense with civilians presents difficulties.

"You have to be careful in an urban environment. That's one of the difficulties we have here," Garver said. "You can't fire back indiscriminately."

U.S. troops continued to search an area 20 miles south of Baghdad for three American soldiers captured during an attack Saturday that killed five of their comrades, including an Iraqi soldier, and fighting broke out between Iraqi soldiers and members of a Shiite Muslim militia group in Nasiriyah, farther south.

Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch said that more than 600 had people had been detained during the search, most of whom had been released. The manhunt comprised more than 4,000 U.S. troops and 2,000 Iraqi soldiers. The effort, he said, included dividing the area around Mahmoudiya and Youssifiyah into 35 zones and clearing each of them, some three times.

Satellite imagery, manned and unmanned aircraft, and dogs capable of detecting bombs and corpses have been used in the search. At one point, troops drained a 20-foot-deep canal.

Lynch provided new details of Saturday's attack.

Two Humvees with eight soldiers had taken a position on a rural road near a spot where a homemade bomb had exploded and were on the lookout for insurgents planting another explosive in the blast hole, a common tactic, Lynch said. They'd strung concertina wire around their vehicles and were about three-tenths of mile from others in their unit.

The attack came about 4:45 a.m. Evidence at the scene suggests that the attackers stormed the position with grenades and gunfire. The vehicles burned with such ferocity that it was three hours before responding troops could get close enough to see how many soldiers had died.

Lynch said marks leading from the southernmost Humvee indicated that at least one of the missing soldiers was dragged about 15 yards to a vehicle.

The fighting near Nasiriyah began after Iraqi police arrested two members of the militia of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr on suspicion of making bombs. When militia officers demanded the men's release, fighting broke out.

By the day's end, at least eight civilians and a police lieutenant colonel were reported dead, several homes had burned and mortar rounds had fallen in a marketplace and on houses.

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(Special correspondent Hussein Kadhim contributed to this story.)

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(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

Iraq

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