Gunmen blew up two Sunni mosques Wednesday south of Baghdad, causing heavy damage but no casualties, police said, a day after a suicide truck bombing devastated a revered Shiite mosque in the heart of the capital, killing at least 87 people.
Thousands of U.S. and Iraqi troops, meanwhile, pressed forward on the second day of an operation aimed at clearing out an al Qaeda stronghold northeast of Baghdad. The U.S. military said at least 30 al-Qaeda fighters were killed and several bombs and weapons caches destroyed as the soldiers fought their way through the streets of Baqouba.
According to the AP, by late Tuesday, the military had reported only one American death. Iraqi forces also have joined the battle in Diyala. Iraqi Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammed al-Askari said some 5,000 Iraqi troops and 2,000 paramilitary police were fighting.
The Iraqi Defense Ministry said that three civilians had been injured in Diyala in addition to the 30 al-Qaeda fighters. It also said 13 suspected al-Qaeda men had been detained and 14 roadside bombs dismantled, along with three car bombs and three weapons caches. "The citizens received the valiant Iraqi army forces with overwhelming joy as the soldiers were waving to them with the V for victory sign," the ministry said in a statement.
Violence continued south of Baghdad with suspected Shiite militiamen detonating a bomb inside a Sunni mosque in Haswa, 30 miles south of Baghdad, at about 1 a.m., then in another mosque near Hillah, about 60 miles south of the capital, about six hours later, local police officers said.
Battles also continued south of Baghdad between Iraqi security forces and Shiite militiamen loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Four soldiers died and a Humvee was burned in nearly two hours of clashes in the Shiite town of Numaniyah, 77 miles southeast of Baghdad, police said. The fighting erupted hours after five other Iraqi soldiers were killed and three were wounded by a roadside bomb in the mainly Sunni town of Madain, on the southeastern outskirts of Baghdad.
Further south, the U.S. military said three militants had been killed, including a senior leader of al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, and 45 detained after two days of clashes in Nasiriyah, about 200 miles southeast of Baghdad. Iraqi police and hospital officials put the casualty toll at 35 killed and 150 wounded.