BAGHDAD, Iraq - Fierce fighting between coalition forces and insurgents shut down an Iraqi city on Wednesday as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki arrived in Jordan for a summit with President Bush aimed at halting escalating sectarian violence and paving the way for a reduction of U.S. troops.
As al-Maliki arrived in Jordan, some of the prime minister's key Shiite backers - politicians loyal to the anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr - said they would carry out their threat to suspend their cooperation with Parliament because of the summit.
The political bloc whose members are known as Sadrists is a mainstay of support for al-Maliki.
"We are sticking to our position. ... The boycott is still valid," Falih Hassan, a Sadrist legislator, said in an interview with The Associated Press. "Bush is a criminal who killed a lot of Iraqis and we do not want him to interfere in Iraq's affairs. The Iraqi government should negotiate with the U.N. Security Council, not with the leader of the country that is occupying Iraq."
Gunfire crackled for most of the morning around Baghdad's Green Zone, the site of U.S. and Iraqi government offices.
By 10 a.m., 13 insurgents, six policemen, and five civilians had been killed in Iraq, including two females who were caught up in a coalition raid north of the capital, police and U.S. officials said. That raised to seven the number of Iraqi females, including an infant, who had died during American raids in Iraq in the last two days.
In Baqouba, the capital of Diyala province 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, clashes between coalition forces and Sunni-Arab insurgents have killed scores of militants and civilians in the past few days.
On Wednesday, the university, public schools and many stores remained closed, and Baqouba's streets were mostly empty, except for a few people who dashed out to small fruit or vegetable stalls to stock up on food.
In a city with a crumbling infrastructure, few residents had electricity and most only received limited water supplies. Many Shiites and Sunnis have fled neighborhoods where they live in a minority, seeking refuge with relatives in nearby provinces or, if they had the money, in neighboring Jordan and Syria.
Coalition forces backed by U.S. aircraft killed eight al-Qaida in Iraq insurgents during a raid near Baqouba that also left two Iraqi women dead, the U.S. military said.
The early morning attack was aimed at detaining Iraqis who were running a known cell of insurgents, the U.S. command said. Coming under heavy fire from rifles and machine guns, the soldiers called in air support that killed the eight insurgents, the command said in a brief statement. While searching the area, U.S. forces also found the bodies of two local Iraqi females who had died during the fight.
No coalition casualties were reported.
Also Wednesday, suspected insurgents attacked the police headquarters in downtown Baqouba, and five of the attackers were shot and killed, police said on condition of anonymity, as they regularly do to protect themselves. Insurgents often kill Iraqi security forces for being allied with the U.S.-led coalition.
On Tuesday, U.S. soldiers fought with suspected insurgents in Ramadi, the capital of violence-torn Anbar province to the west of Baghdad, killing six Iraqis: one man and five females, including the infant.
That fighting began after a coalition patrol discovered a roadside bomb in the Hamaniyah section of Ramadi and saw two Iraqi men flee to a house where they took up position on the roof, the military said. U.S. soldiers attacked the building and found the six bodies inside after the fight, the military said.
It accused the militants of risking the lives of civilians by using the building as a safe house for insurgents.
In Salahuddin, a province west of Diyala province, insurgents on Wednesday killed four policemen and wounded four others in a carefully coordinated attack on a police station in Samarra city that used a suicide car bomb and militants armed with guns and rocket-propelled grenades, said police Capt. Laith Mohammed.
In another town in Salahuddin, suspected insurgents attacked a police checkpoint, killing two policemen and wounding two others, Mohammed said.
The U.S. command also said a roadside bomb in the province had killed one U.S. Army soldier and wounded another on Tuesday, raising to at least 2,882 the number of members of the U.S. military who have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
In Baghdad, gunfire could be heard for much of the morning near the Green Zone, the heavily fortified area on the Tigris River where Iraq's parliament, U.S. soldiers and American and British embassies are based.
At 7:45 a.m. Wednesday, a roadside bomb exploded near a police patrol in a commercial center of the capital, killing three civilians and wounding 11 Iraqis, including two policeman and three children, said police Lt. Bilal Ali Majid.
Two mortar rounds also exploded near the Health Ministry, wounding two civilians, said police Lt. Ali Muhsin. Guards at the building opened fire randomly after the attack, he said
In New York on Tuesday, U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to extend for one year the mandate of the 160,000-strong multinational force in Iraq.
The Security Council responded to a request from al-Maliki, who said a top government priority is to assume full responsibility for security and stability throughout Iraq but that it needs more time.