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Two People Killed in Coalition Raids in Southern Iraq

Two people were killed Saturday in the southern Iraqi city of Kut during gunbattles between police and Shi'ite militia.

The militia are members of the Mahdi Army, who are controlled by firebrand cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Authorities say the clash occurred when police, aided by U.S. troops, raided two neighborhoods that are known Mahdi Army strongholds in the city. At least one of the dead was a policeman.

Clashes between Shi'ite militia and coalition forces in Kut have killed more than a dozen people in recent days. Sadr recently extended a cease-fire for another six months, but there are some forces who have broken off from his control.

In a separate incident, U.S. military officials say a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-filled vest at Rabiyah, a checkpoint along the Iraq-Syria border located 120 kilometers north of Mosul. The blast killed an interpreter and left six others wounded, including two coalition soldiers and two civilian U.S. Army personnel.

Iraq has seen an upsurge in violence in recent weeks, after a lull of several months following last year's deployment of 30,000 additional U.S. troops.

An Iraqi government spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, told VOA Friday he agrees with the top U.S. military commander in Iraq and other critics who say political reforms have been too slow in coming.

In an interview Thursday with reporters for The Washington Post, Army General David Petraeus said the Iraqi government has not made enough progress toward achieving national reconciliation.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.