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Curfew Curbs Baghdad Violence But Sectarian Clashes Continue in Other Areas

U.S. and Iraqi officials are embracing a five-day drop in violence across the capital, Baghdad. Attacks throughout much of the country surged during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The Baghdad streets were relatively quiet Friday, a welcome change after several weeks of escalating violence.

Iraqi soldiers enforced a long-standing midday curfew in the capital.

On patrol in Baghdad, soldier Saad Saddam says he hopes security there will continue to improve.

He says the Interior Ministry has issued new and improved instructions. So far, he says, no serious attack has taken place.

Violence soared throughout much of Iraq during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which ended Sunday for most Sunnis and a day later for Shi'ites.

U.S. officials say attacks in Baghdad neighborhoods, patrolled by U.S. forces, have dropped by 10 to 20 percent this week.

But even in Baghdad Friday there were fresh signs of insecurity.

U.S. forces continued their hunt for a missing U.S. soldier in Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood.

The impoverished district is largely controlled by Shi'ite militiamen loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

The Iraqi-American soldier has been missing since Monday, sparking widespread concerns that he may have been kidnapped.

U.S.-led raids in Sadr City earlier this week sparked violent clashes, leaving at least 14 people dead.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki denounced the raids, despite promises to crack down on the country's sectarian militias.

U.S. officials on Friday also confirmed a major battle between Iraqi police and Sunni insurgents near Baqouba, about 60 kilometers northeast of the capital.

The military said insurgents ambushed an Iraqi patrol Thursday morning. One civilian and 24 police were killed. U.S. forces provided air support and at least 18 insurgents were killed.

Sectarian clashes in and around Baqouba have intensified in recent weeks.

A series of brutal revenge killings between Sunni and Shi'ite militias there have left scores dead throughout the region.

Iraqi officials say more than 300 local police and soldiers have been killed nationwide in the past month. The U.S. death toll reached 96 on Friday, the deadliest month in over a year.