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U.S. Forces Battle Insurgents in Central Baghdad

The battle came the day before President Bush’s planned address on a new Iraq strategy, which is expected to include a temporary increase of 20,000 troops to the estimated 134,000 there now.

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said the government supported the increase.

“The goal is to protect Baghdad and other areas. If this is going to be achieved by an increase in friendly coalition forces, we have no objection and we support this,” he said, according to the Associated Press.

Witnesses to the fighting in Baghdad said they saw aircraft firing into the combat zone, just north of the heavily fortified coalition “Green Zone,” and heard explosions.

Maj. Gen. Ibrahim of the Defense Ministry said 21 militants were captured, including seven foreign Arabs from places such as Syria and Sudan.

The battle began when gunmen attacked Iraqi army checkpoints, and Iraqi soldiers called on U.S. forces for help, according to police.

Al-Dabbagh said Iraqi forces are looking to wipe out “terrorist hide-outs” in the area. “God willing, Haifa Street will never threaten the Iraqi people again,” he said, reported the AP.

Haifa Street has long been a Sunni insurgent stronghold and housed Baath Party members and officials during Saddam Hussein’s reign.

Meanwhile, President Bush has reshuffled some military and diplomatic advisers in advance of his change in Iraq strategy.

Adm. William Fallon is set to replace Gen. John Abizaid as the top U.S. commander of the military theater including Iraq.

Army Lt. Gen. David Petraeus will succeed Gen. George Casey as the new chief commander in Iraq. Casey will, in turn, replace retiring Gen. Peter Schoomaker as Army chief of staff.

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