8 killed in Iraq restaurant blast

( AP ) - A bomb exploded Saturday in a predominantly Shiite area southeast of Baghdad, killing eight people and wounding 13 others, police and hospital officials said.

The blast, which occurred at 7:30 a.m. in Jisr Diyala, targeted restaurants frequented by government employees and construction workers, according to officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.

Two police officers and two women were among the wounded, the officials said.

Last Wednesday, eight people were killed and 24 were injured when a bomb struck the same area, which is about 10 miles southeast of Baghdad.

Also Saturday, the U.S. military announced the death of a soldier killed during small arms fire while conducting operations in the Salahuddin province.

The Multi-National Division-North soldier, whose name was withheld pending notification of relatives, died Thursday in the predominantly Sunni province north of Baghdad, the military said in a brief statement. It released no further details.

On Friday, an aide for radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said the leader could end a ban on his militia's activities because of rising anger over U.S. and Iraqi raids against his followers. Al-Sadr is concerned about increased clashes between rival factions in the mainly Shiite south, according to the aide.

His call in August for a six-month cease-fire has been credited with a sharp drop in the number of bullet-riddled bodies that turn up on the streets of Iraq and are believed to be victims of Shiite death squads.

Baghdad police found three people slain execution-style and bearing signs of torture on Friday, compared with the dozens often found on a typical day before al-Sadr's declaration. The morgue in the southern city of Kut received two bodies, including one pulled from the Tigris River.

The U.S. welcomed al-Sadr's cease-fire declaration but has continued to target what it says are Iranian-backed breakaway factions of his Mahdi Army militia, and appears to have escalated the campaign in recent weeks.

Al-Sadr aide Sheik Assad al-Nasseri said during a sermon in the mosque in Kufa, 100 miles south of Baghdad, that patience with the U.S. operations was running out and the freeze could be lifted anytime.

"It was one decision which could end in one minute and then they will be sorry," al-Nasseri told worshippers.

He blamed U.S. and Iraqi security forces for killing civilians in the crackdown, singling out recent military operations against militia fighters in the mainly Shiite cities of Diwaniyah, 80 miles south of Baghdad, and Karbala, 50 miles south of the capital.

"The detention campaigns against al-Sadr's people were not conducted according to issued arrest warrants as they claim," he said. "They went so far as to assault women and children in front of husbands, brothers and fathers. These are shameful things. ... They are more unjust to us than the Saddamists."

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