Fighting in Iraq intensified Friday on several fronts. Militants have attacked the U.S.-protected Green Zone in Baghdad, killing two Iraqi guards outside the vice president's office, while U.S.-led coalition forces targeted insurgents in the southern city of Basra and the capital's Sadr City neighborhood. And Iraq's parliament has held an emergency session to look for an end to the violence. VOA's Kent Klein looks at the day's developments in Iraq.
Iraqi extremists have attacked Baghdad's Green Zone with rockets or mortars, continuing a week of steady barrages. Friday's attacks left two Iraqi guards dead outside the office of Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, who was reported to be somewhere else at the time.
At least two Americans have been killed in this week's attacks on the Green Zone, and the U.S. State Department has been urging U.S. embassy workers to stay inside reinforced buildings.
Also in Baghdad, a U.S. helicopter fired a missile during fighting in Sadr City, a stronghold for the Mahdi Army militia of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The U.S. military said four militants were killed in the strike, while Iraqi officials say the dead were civilians. One Sadr City resident described the scene.
He says U.S. helicopters were hovering above Sadr City five minutes ago. He said he was inside his house when he heard two bangs. When he went out to see what happened, he said he heard another two bangs and you are seeing what happened."
A U.S. military spokesman said U.S. troops also fought militants on the ground in Sadr City.
Coalition forces also targeted militants in the southern city of Basra, where U.S. jets dropped bombs for the first time since the Iraqi government cracked down on Shiite militias earlier in the week.
Meanwhile, Iraq's parliament, meeting in emergency session, has established a committee led by its Sunni Arab speaker, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, to mediate an end to the fighting, in which more than 100 people have died this week. The parliament's largest Shiite bloc, the United Iraqi Alliance, boycotted the meeting. And a Kurdish member of parliament, Fryad Rawanduzi, told the VOA Kurdish service he's skeptical that the committee can help reduce the fighting.
He said he didn't think the meeting would take place any time soon, because most of the political blocs in the Iraqi parliament don't think that it is appropriate to discuss the clashes between the government and the Mahdi Army militias in the parliament. Therefore, he says he thinks the meeting might take place somewhere outside the parliament, maybe at Mahmoud al-Mashhadani's residence.
A leading Iranian Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, called on Iraq's government and the Shiite militants, to negotiate an end to the violence.
Earlier in the day, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki extended a deadline, which was to expire Friday, for Shiite gunmen fighting government forces to turn in their weapons. Mr. Maliki said the insurgents will be rewarded financially if they surrender their arms by April 8. Major General Abdul Kareem Khalaf, the Iraqi Deputy Interior Minister for Military Affairs, says some militants are accepting the offer.
He said most of them started to obey the government's order and surrendered their weapons and signed a written pledge not to take up arms again. He said the prime minister wanted to give them a chance to surrender their weapons and sign the written pledge.
Here in Washington, President Bush called the escalating fighting "a defining moment in the history of Iraq," and "a necessary part of the development of a free society." Mr. Bush was speaking at a White House news conference with Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.