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Iraq Transition

Thousands of Iraqis rally for Hezbollah


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BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Thousands of people marched through the streets of Baghdad on Friday, enthusiastically voicing support for Lebanon's Hezbollah militia.

Angry protesters chanted slogans, burned Israeli flags and waved Lebanese and Hezbollah flags in the Iraqi capital's densely populated Shiite enclave of Sadr City. Demonstrators also held up placards with the portrait of Hassan Nasrallah, head of Hezbollah.

The Shiite militant group Hezbollah has been fighting Israel in a fierce cross-border war that so far has claimed the lives of 675 Lebanese and 74 Israelis in a little more than three weeks. (Latest developments)

Eyewitnesses estimated the crowd at tens of thousands, but the U.S. military said 14,000 attended the peaceful demonstration. (Watch as thousands rally in the streets -- 1:41)

"The crowd marched through the streets of northeast Baghdad to Firdos Square, while 6th Iraqi army Division soldiers and the Iraqi National Police provided security," the military said, noting there were no reports of violence or injuries.

Sunni-Shiite sectarian strife has plagued Iraq in recent months, but many Iraqis have been incensed over the recent fighting in Lebanon. Of Iraq's 26 million people, 60 percent are believed to be Shiite Muslims.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shiite, has criticized Israel over its assault on targets in Lebanon. Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr -- who has a strong following in the Shiite neighborhood -- also has denounced Israel.

Hezbollah's capture of two Israeli soldiers triggered the fighting in a cross-border raid July 12.

Col. Brian Jones said he was not "greatly concerned" that the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict would spark more instability in Iraq.

"There are some who would try to whip the normal man into a frenzy to have them attack the Americans," said Jones, commander of the 4th Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team. But he added that most people understand the U.S. role is not "one of aggression at this point."

Baghdad's march came on the heels of Thursday's Senate testimony from the commander of U.S. forces in the Mideast warning that if Iraqi violence is not brought under control, particularly in the capital, the country could descend into civil war. (Full story)

Car bombings, clashes in Mosul

Insurgents and police slugged it out Friday across the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, leaving three police officers and an unknown number of insurgents dead.

The clashes led officials to enforce a citywide curfew until dawn on Saturday.

The violence erupted as 3,500 U.S. troops were being moved from the Mosul area to Baghdad to help bolster security in the capital.

Fighting raged in at least eight neighborhoods in Mosul, the largest city in Iraq's northern tier about 250 miles (400 kilometers) north of Baghdad.

At least 80 insurgents drove vehicles into several neighborhoods and attacked police patrols and checkpoints, police said.

Two car bombs also went off. In one of the attacks, Col. Jassim Mohammed Bilal, a police battalion commander, and two other police officers were slain when attackers targeted his convoy in the eastern Noor neighborhood, said Nineveh province Gov. Duraid Kashmoula.

Police and civilians were wounded in the blast. The bodies of an unknown number of insurgents were strewn on the ground across the city.

South of Mosul, a suicide bomber in a pickup struck a police patrol near a sports field Thursday night, killing 10 people, according to a Mosul police official.

Three police officers were among the dead, and 12 others, including seven police, were wounded in the attack in Hadhar, about 55 miles (88 kilometers) south of Mosul.

Other developments

  • Two U.S. soldiers were killed Friday as a result of "enemy action" in Anbar province, west of Baghdad, the U.S. military said. The number of U.S. troops killed in the Iraq war stands at 2,578. Seven American civilian contractors of the military also have died in the conflict.
  • American-led coalition forces staged operations in Baquba and near Baghdad late this week, leading to the deaths and arrests of insurgents, the U.S. military said. The Baquba raid targeted suspects with ties to a senior al Qaeda in Iraq leader, the military said. Coalition forces killed at least three insurgents in an airstrike and raids southeast of Baghdad. Nineteen people also were detained Thursday in raids near Ramadi and Falluja in Anbar province.
  • CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.

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