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British troop withdrawals remain frozen
IRAQ BAGHDAD LBAG10 5284246
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, back right, meets with British Foreign Affairs Minister David Miliband, back left, sit with officials during his visit to Baghdad, Iraq, on Thursday April 24, 2008. - photo by Associated Press
    BAGHDAD — Britain said Thursday that it will keep troop withdrawals from Iraq frozen for months because of an upsurge in fighting with Shiite militias. Iraqi officials said fresh clashes between militiamen and Iraqi and U.S.-led forces had killed at least 13 people.
    British Defense Secretary Des Browne informed Parliament of the continued freeze as Foreign Secretary David Miliband held closed-door meetings with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad.
    The British Embassy confirmed Miliband’s previously unannounced visit but declined to release any other information due to security concerns.
    Britain has around 4,500 troops in Iraq, most based at an airport camp near the southern city of Basra. Britain suspended plans to withdraw about 1,500 troops this spring after fighting broke out last month between Iraqi forces and Shiite militiamen.
    ‘‘While the situation on the ground continues to evolve rapidly, and while military commanders continue to assess the changing environment in Basra, it remains prudent that we take time to fully consider further reductions,’’ Browne told lawmakers.
    Browne said British soldiers are training an entire Iraqi army division, but acknowledged the local soldiers are months away from being ready to deploy.
    Al-Maliki said in a press release that the situation in the south was now stable and that the government was continuing ‘‘to pursue all outlaws.’’
    However, five people died and 28 were wounded early Thursday in Baghdad’s Sadr City district, a stronghold of the Mahdi Army militia of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The figures came from a police officer who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
    Another eight people were killed and two wounded during fighting in the capital’s Husseiniyah area, another base of Shiite militants. The figures came from a hospital official who spoke on condition of anonymity out of safety concerns.
    The fighting in Baghdad broke out after Iraqi troops moved last month to regain control of Basra, capital of the country’s vast oil industry from militias. U.S. and British troops have helped the Iraqis gain control of the city, although scattered attacks still occur.
    But the fighting spread to Sadr City, with its substantial Shiite population and strong militia presence.
    On Thursday, a roadside bomb targeting an Iraqi army patrol exploded in Baghdad’s western Mansour area, killing three civilians and wounding 14 others, police said.
    Meanwhile, the U.S. military said Thursday that two of its soldiers were killed in an accident in Salahuddin province when their vehicle rolled onto its side.
    Their deaths raised the American death toll in April to 36, the highest rate of death for troops in Iraq since September, when 65 Americans were killed, according to an Associated Press tally.
    In all, at least 4,048 U.S. military personnel have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to the AP count.
    Also in the capital, a rocket or mortar round hit the Polish embassy, causing damage and lightly wounding one person, Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski said in Warsaw.
    Poland plans to withdraw its 900 remaining troops from Iraq by the end of October.
    In western Anbar province, U.S. troops killed six Sunni insurgents in a clash north of Lake Tharthat. The region, a former resort area, is now a stronghold of rebels affiliated with al-Qaida.