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Three U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq

They are the first American casualties since the military completed the withdrawal of combat forces from Iraqi cities June 30.

July 18, 2009|Liz Sly

BAGHDAD — Three American soldiers were killed in Iraq when rockets hit their base outside the southern city of Basra, the U.S. military said Friday.

The American deaths were the first since the military completed the withdrawal of combat forces from Iraqi cities on June 30. The attack Thursday evening came in a part of the country that has been considered one of the calmest.

Shortly after the attack, the Iraqi army gave the U.S. military permission to carry out aerial searches northwest of the airport, the area from where the rockets are thought to have been launched, U.S officials said. Troops chased a car to a house, which they searched. A joint U.S.-Iraqi patrol raided another home. Three Iraqi men were briefly detained, the military said.

The U.S. military praised the Iraqis' response to the attack. It had been unclear how supportive Iraqi forces would be after June 30 if U.S. troops came under attack.

"The quick action of the 14th Iraqi Army Division inspires confidence that the criminals who committed this act will be brought to justice," said Maj. Gen. Rick Nash, the commanding U.S. officer in southern Iraq.

There has been no significant increase in violence since the U.S. pullback, but militants have continued to stage small-scale attacks, mainly in Baghdad and the northern city of Mosul.

Three Iraqi pilgrims were killed Friday in bombings as hundreds of thousands of Shiite Muslims from across Iraq converged on a shrine in Baghdad to commemorate the anniversary of the death of an 8th century saint, Imam Musa Kadhim.

Such pilgrimages have been targeted by Sunni extremists, and security has been tightened across the city to safeguard the route pilgrims take to the shrine in Baghdad's northwestern neighborhood of Kadhimiya.

A total of 31 people were injured in five bombings around Baghdad, far fewer than the numbers injured or killed during such events in recent years.

In addition, a helicopter contracted by the State Department crashed outside Baghdad, killing two crew members, a U.S. Embassy official said. Two crew members were injured. Officials said the crash was under investigation.

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liz.sly@latimes.com

Times staff writers Ned Parker and Raheem Salman contributed to this report.

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