Security operation to start soon, 2 key Sadr officials killed

Violence raked the Iraqi capital Monday as the general who will lead Iraqi forces in the coming Baghdad security crackdown took charge and a senior U.S. military official said the much-vaunted joint operation with American forces to curb sectarian bloodshed would start "very soon thereafter."

At least 27 people died in bomb and mortar attacks.

A bomb placed in a garbage bin killed at least eight people and wounded 18 in a central Baghdad neighborhood shortly after noon Monday, police said.

Within minutes two other car bombs blew up in quick succession in the south of the city, killing at least 15 and wounding 60.

Two other people were killed in the capital when a mortar round slammed into a second central Baghdad neighborhood and a bomb hidden in trash exploded on the city's east side, police reported.

Two more people were killed in an explosion in a mainly Christian enclave in southeast Baghdad. Ten were wounded, police said.

Suspected Shiite militiamen also burned down three houses in the largely Sunni al-Amil district in southwest Baghdad. Casualties were not known because police had blockaded the area.

The U.S. military reported the deaths of two American soldiers, both killed on Sunday.

Elsewhere, two key members of radical anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's political and military organization were killed as the top ranks of the organization continue to come under attack from both Sunni insurgents and U.S. and Iraqi forces.

Ali Khazim, who ran al-Sadr's political organization in volatile Diyala province northeast of Baghdad, was killed Sunday by U.S. forces at his home in Howaider village, 20 kilometers (12 miles) east of Baqouba, Saleh al-Ageili, a spokesman for the Sadr Movement's parliamentary bloc, said on Monday. Provincial police confirmed al-Ageili's account.

The spokesman said Khazim was stabbed with a bayonet, reports AP.

"What has happened to Khazim is part of the series of provocative acts by the occupation forces against the Sadr movement. The occupation forces know well who are the terrorists and their whereabouts, yet they are targeting our people," al-Ageili told The Associated Press.

The U.S. military said in a statement that Iraqi troops backed by Americans had shot and killed the leader of a rogue Mahdi Army group in Howaider. It did not name Khazim as the victim.

"The suspect is believed to have facilitated and directed numerous kidnappings, assassinations and other violence targeting Iraqi civilians and Iraqi Police. He is reportedly responsible for several attacks against Coalition and Iraqi Forces in the area," the military said.

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