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Foot traffic ban imposed in Baghdad

Afternoon curfew follows a rash of violent clashes

BAGHDAD -- Adding a new layer of confusion to the security crackdown gripping Baghdad, the Iraqi government yesterday imposed a last-minute ban on pedestrian as well as vehicular traffic throughout the city.

The government gave no explanation for the additional restrictive measures, but they followed violent clashes in several Baghdad neighborhoods. Iraqi forces battled insurgents armed with rocket-propelled grenades, hand grenades, and rifles near the heavily fortified Green Zone.

US military officials announced the deaths of five more US troops in a particularly violent week for American forces that included the discovery of the brutalized bodies of two soldiers earlier this week.

Two soldiers were killed yesterday morning when their vehicle struck a roadside bomb southeast of the capital, the military said. A separate military statement issued yesterday said two US Marines were killed during combat in the volatile Anbar province Wednesday and Thursday, and a soldier died elsewhere in a noncombat incident Wednesday.

Those five deaths brought to 12 the number of US service members who were killed or found death this week.

The 2 p.m. curfew was announced late in the morning, after many people were already traveling to work or to mosques for weekly Friday prayers. Originally, it was supposed to last all night. But hours later, a bulletin on Iraqi television announced the curfew would end at 5 p.m.

The state of emergency, which was to continue for an indefinite period, included a renewed prohibition on carrying weapons and gave Iraqi security forces broader arrest powers, Jassim said.

Under a security crackdown launched last week, vehicle traffic already was banned in the capital from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Fridays, the Muslim Sabbath, when midday mosque attendance -- and the potential for violence -- is high.

Three insurgents were killed and six wounded in fighting near the Haifa Street neighborhood yesterday, according to Ahmed al-Nuaimi, an Interior Ministry official. Four Iraqi soldiers and three police officers were wounded before the area was sealed and searched house-to-house for insurgent attackers.

US and Iraqi forces also engaged in firefights with insurgents in the dangerous Dora neighborhood in south Baghdad.

Thick smoke rose above the white high-rise buildings of Haifa Street amid the clashes. Helicopters flew back and forth overhead. Women covered in black head-to-toe robes, some holding packages on their heads, hurried home.

Residents in the commercial neighborhood of Karrada criticized the lack of warning about the curfew, even as they said they understood the goal was to improve security.

``Aren't they supposed to give us a day's notice? How are people who went to work or to pray supposed to get home?" said Muhammed Saleh, 28, a taxi driver. ``This is a decision by someone who is not wise, not reasonable."

Iraqis who work in the Green Zone streamed out just after noon, in an attempt to make it home before the lockdown took effect.

``We heard about this, but plenty of people didn't," said Haider Haleeji, 28, a security guard for a translation company. ``There are people who will have to sleep in the office because they won't be able to get home."

North of the capital, in the rural village of Hibhib, an explosion outside the Shaheed Jalal mosque killed at least nine Sunni Muslim worshipers as they left Friday prayers, the local police chief said. The village was the site of the US airstrike that killed Al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi earlier this month.

Al Qaeda's number two leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, paid tribute to Zarqawi in a video yesterday, extolling him as a hero and ``the prince of martyrs."

A car bomb ripped through a market and nearby gas station in the predominantly Shi'ite city of Basra yesterday, killing at least five people and wounding 18, including two police officers, police said. At least 19 other deaths were reported in Baghdad.

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