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Iraqi forces battle rogue Shiite militants

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  • NEW: A U.S. soldier dies after an attack south of Baghdad
  • Troops, police take on Mehdi Army elements in Kut, Baghdad
  • Influential Shiite cleric suspended militia, but some members ignore cease-fire
  • Clashes frequent between rival militias in Shiite cities
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraqi security forces and Shiite fighters battled on Friday in Baghdad and a southeastern provincial capital, an Interior Ministry official said.

Two fighters were killed and 15 people were injured in the fighting, which apparently involved militants linked to Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army militia, the official said.

Al-Sadr suspended Mehdi Army operations in August, a move that the U.S. military believes contributed to a drop in violence. But some militia members have ignored the cease-fire.

The fighting between Iraqi security forces and Shiite militants erupted in Kut, the capital of Wasit province. At least two militia members were killed; eight militia members and two police officers were wounded.

Iraqi security forces are launching large-scale military operations in some Kut neighborhoods, searching for rogue Mehdi Army members who have developed a stronghold in the predominantly Shiite city.

Rival militia groups have faced off in Shiite heartland cities for months. Many times, the Badr Brigade has participated with security forces to fight Mehdi Army militia members.

The fighting Friday between Mehdi Army members and police in two southwestern Baghdad neighborhoods left three police and two civilians wounded. Iraqi soldiers, backed by U.S. troops, brought the flare-up under control.

Meanwhile, the U.S. death toll in Iraq grew Friday.

A U.S. soldier died from wounds received from indirect fire south of Baghdad, the Multi-National Corps-Iraq said. Four other soldiers were wounded.

The death brings the number of U.S. service members who have died since the Iraq war began five years ago to 3,985. Eight Defense Department contractors have also been killed. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.

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