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Fifteen Iraqi police killed defusing rockets
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi officials said 15 policemen were killed and more than 45 wounded in eastern Baghdad on Tuesday as they tried to defuse rockets that had been prepared for launch from the back of a truck.
The incident came after rockets were fired at nearby U.S. and Iraqi army bases from the capital's Shi'ite Ubaidi district.
Police said they discovered a truck from which rockets had been launched. As they tried to deal with them, it exploded.
"The bomb disposal unit were trying to defuse eight rockets in Ubaidi but they lost control and they exploded," said Major-General Qassim Moussawi, spokesman for Iraq's military in Baghdad.
Police put the death toll at 15, adding the blast also set 10 cars alight. The U.S. military said two of its outposts had come under attack from rockets within five minutes, wounding four soldiers.
On Monday, five civilians were killed and 14 wounded when rockets landed on a Sunni residential area near Baghdad's international airport, in one of the capital's deadliest rocket attacks for months.
Police said they were fired from a neighboring Shi'ite area.
The Iraqi military said on Saturday attacks in Baghdad had dropped by up to 80 percent thanks to a year-long security crackdown on al Qaeda militants and feuding Sunni Arab and Shi'ite gunmen.
But the U.S. military has warned that "special groups", by which it means rogue elements in the Mehdi Army militia of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, are still active and it has been targeting them aggressively.
The U.S. military also said on Tuesday that Iraq's Ministry of Interior (MOI) had initiated plans to round up beggars and mentally handicapped people from Baghdad's streets to prevent al Qaeda using them in suicide bomb attacks.
At the start of the month, two women set off explosives in pet markets in the capital, killing 99 people in what was the capital's bloodiest attack since last April.
Although they have not given definitive proof, U.S. and Iraqi officials said there was evidence the women were mentally impaired, had been duped by al Qaeda and were probably unaware of what they were doing.
"We are aware of the Ministry of Interior's efforts to try and protect homeless and mentally impaired citizens from becoming the unwitting victims of al Qaeda in Iraq," U.S. military spokesman Rear Admiral Greg Smith said in a statement.
"It is our understanding that the MOI intends to transfer these, the most vulnerable of Iraq's people, to the Ministry of Work and Social Affairs."
Just over a week ago, U.S. troops raided a psychiatric hospital in Baghdad and arrested the hospital's director on suspicion of involvement in the pet market bombings.
U.S. commanders say they believe al Qaeda in Iraq is resorting to new tactics after the crackdown on militants. An extra 30,000 U.S. troops have helped cut attacks by 60 percent across the country since last June, they say.
U.S forces are now targeting Sunni Islamist militants in northern Iraq after they were forced from strongholds in the west and around Baghdad after Sunni tribal sheikhs rebelled against them.
(Reporting by Michael Holden; editing by Andrew Roche)
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