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US troops meet little resistance to crackdown

Traffic snarled in Baghdad

Baghdad's bridges and streets were jammed with traffic yesterday as Iraqi soldiers and police set up new checkpoints. Baghdad's bridges and streets were jammed with traffic yesterday as Iraqi soldiers and police set up new checkpoints. (JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images)

BAGHDAD -- Thousands of US troops swept house to house through mostly Shi'ite areas virtually unopposed yesterday in the opening phase of the long-awaited Baghdad security crackdown. But four US soldiers were killed outside of the capital in an area not covered by the operation.

Elsewhere in Baghdad, Iraqi soldiers and police set up new checkpoints across the city of 6 million people, snarling traffic and forcing people to walk across bridges jammed with cars and trucks.

The US military said 14 suspects were detained and four weapons caches discovered during the day's operation -- seemingly a low tally. But US officials say they are more concerned about establishing a long-term presence in the areas so that the public will gain confidence in security forces to protect them.

Outside the capital, fighting continued.

The military said four US soldiers were killed yesterday in an explosion in Diyala province. They were among six new US deaths announced by the military. US officers have expressed concern that insurgents and militias are leaving Baghdad to transfer the fight to Diyala and other provinces that border the capital.

Iraq's Sunni vice president, Tariq al-Hashemi, warned that advance publicity on the security operation had given Shi'ite militias time to flee the city for bases elsewhere in the country.

"I have information that numerous of their leaders are now in Basra and other southern provinces in safe havens," he told Al-Arabiya television. "I believe that those who were behind the bloodshed and the chaos should be pursued and criminals must face justice."

At least 38 Iraqis also were killed or found dead nationwide, including four civilians who died when a parked-car bomb struck a predominantly Shi'ite district in central Baghdad. Only five bullet-riddled bodies were found on the streets of the capital, an unusually low number of apparent victims of so-called sectarian death squads, mainly run by Shi'ite militias, that have killed thousands in the past year.

The increased security measures drew a mixed response from Iraqis.

Some were angry over the inconvenience, while others embraced any effort to stop the rampant violence.