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Iraqi leader vows to press US to work for cease-fire in Lebanon

BAGHDAD -- Iraq's prime minister said yesterday that he will urge US officials to work for a cease-fire in Lebanon during his visit to Washington, saying Israel's ``hostile acts" adversely affect the entire the Middle East.

But a Shi'ite party asked him to scrap the visit in solidarity with Lebanon.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shi'ite activist who spent years in exile in Syria, is expected to meet President Bush at the White House this week. Security in Iraq is expected to top the agenda after an increasing number of attacks in the Baghdad area.

But Maliki, who has been among the most vocal Arab leaders against the Israeli assault, said he also would raise the issue of Israel's attacks in Lebanon.

Meanwhile, one US soldier was killed by a roadside bomb yesterday in Baghdad, and another was killed by small-arms fire while on patrol. Seven Shi'ite construction workers were gunned down and five Sunni civilians were blown up, in apparent sectarian reprisal attacks that have deepened the capital's security crisis.

US troops clashed with Shi'ite militiamen south of Baghdad yesterday in a three-hour gun battle in which 15 gunmen and an Iraqi soldier were killed, US officials and Iraqis said. Dozens were wounded in the firefight in Musayyib, about 40 miles south of Baghdad.

Israel has waged a major military campaign in Lebanon, destroying much of the country's infrastructure, after the militant Shi'ite Hezbollah group captured two Israeli soldiers. Lebanese officials say more than 300 civilians have been killed.

``The hostile acts against Lebanon will have effects on the region and we are not far from what is going on in Lebanon," Maliki said. ``We will speak with the United Nations and American government to call for a cease-fire quickly."

The United States, which has nearly 130,000 troops in Iraq, has resisted calls to press its ally Israel to halt the fighting. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is heading to the region soon to discuss the situation. The Americans have made clear they oppose an early cease-fire unless measures can be taken to break the power of Hezbollah to attack Israel.

But Hezbollah and its leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, have a wide following among Iraqi Shi'ites, who make up about 60 percent of the nation's 27 million people.

Yesterday, the Fadhila Party, which is part of Maliki's Shi'ite alliance, urged the prime minister to call off the visit. Fadhila holds 15 seats in the 275-member parliament and dominates the provincial administration in Basra, Iraq's second-largest city.

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