NAJAF, Iraq — Supporters of an anti-American cleric rioted in four Iraqi cities Sunday, killing eight U.S. troops and one Salvadoran soldier in the worst unrest since the spasm of looting and arson immediately after the fall of Saddam Hussein.
The U.S. military on Sunday reported two Marines were killed in a separate “enemy action” in Anbar province, raising the toll of American service members killed in Iraq to at least 610.
The rioters were supporters of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. They were angry over Saturday’s arrest on murder charges of one of al-Sadr’s aides, Mustafa al-Yacoubi, and the closure of a pro-al-Sadr newspaper.
Near the holy city of Najaf, a gunbattle at a Spanish garrison killed at least 22 people, including two coalition soldiers — an American and a Salvadoran.
Fighting in the Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City killed seven U.S. soldiers and wounded at least 24, the U.S. military said in a written statement.
A resident said two Humvees were seen burning in the neighborhood, and that some American soldiers had taken refuge in a building. The report could not be independently confirmed, and it was unclear whether the soldiers involved were those who died.
A column of American tanks was seen moving through the center of Baghdad Sunday evening, possibly headed toward the fighting.
The military said the fighting erupted after members of a militia loyal to radical Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr took control of police stations and government buildings in the neighborhood.
Protesters clashed with Italian and British forces in other cities in a broad, violent challenge to the U.S.-led coalition, raising questions about its ability to stabilize Iraq ahead of a scheduled June 30 handover of power to Iraqis.