A senior Shiite politician says President Barack Obama has sent a letter to Iraq's top Shiite cleric this week.
The politician says the letter to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani reassures the spiritual leader of America's "firm" commitment to Iraq and explains the rationale behind the U.S. military drawdown in Iraq.
The White House and a representative of al-Sistani declined to comment on the report.
The politician, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to share the information with the media, said Friday that the letter was delivered by an Iraqi intermediary.
Al-Sistani, deeply revered by most of Iraq's majority Shiites, has not received American officials since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
BAGHDAD (AP) — A drive-by shooting and a bomb hidden in a motorcycle killed three traffic policemen in Baghdad on Friday, taking to eight the number from the city's force killed this week, police and hospital officials said.
The rash of killings suggested militants were targeting traffic policemen specifically for the first time since the insurgency began in 2003. Iraqi security officials said militants from al-Qaida in Iraq or affiliated groups are likely behind the slayings, viewing the mostly unarmed personnel as easy targets whose killing creates a sense of lawlessness in Iraq's most heavily guarded city.
Two traffic police were killed in a drive-by shooting in a western Baghdad neighborhood Friday in which gunmen used pistols fitted with silencers, police officials said. A third was killed in central Baghdad by a bomb hidden in a parked motorcycle. The blast wounded four others, they said.
All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
"We demand that we are given firearms to defend ourselves and our families," said a 35-year-old traffic policeman in the central Karradah district. "Our life is difficult as it is without this on top," he said. He would only give his nickname, Abu Zeid, because he was not authorized to speak to journalists.
Baghdad's traffic cops have one of the toughest jobs in the city. They are out every day during those merciless 120-degree summer days on streets that have for years been among the world's most dangerous. Members of the force have been killed in crossfires or by bombings, but there hasn't previously been such a string of killings in which they were the intended victims.
Five of them were killed and 11 others wounded on Tuesday and Wednesday by bombings targeting their patrols and a blast from a bomb attached to a patrol's vehicle. A street booth used by traffic cops in eastern Baghdad was blown up Thursday, but no one was hurt. There has been no claim of responsibility for the attacks.
The force does more than direct traffic or issuing tickets — it also brings order to a city struggling to regain normalcy after seven years of violence.
"What they want is to push us into quitting our jobs," said another member of the force, Abu Mohammed. "Already, I have noticed that some of us did not come to work today," he said as he took shelter from the late morning sun under a tree in an eastern Baghdad neighborhood.
When Baghdad was without traffic police for months after its capture by U.S. forces in 2003, the city's unruly motorists did as they pleased, driving on sidewalks and against incoming traffic.
It took many months, sometimes with the help of American troops, before the city's traffic cops were able to persuade motorists to abide by the law.
By the end of the month, only about 50,000 U.S. troops will remain in Iraq, reducing the American military's ability to help Iraqi security forces curb violence. But that number is expected to remain level into next spring at least, Maj. Gen. Stephen Lanza, the top American military spokesman in Iraq, told reporters Friday.
There are just under 64,000 U.S. troops in Iraq now, he said — down from nearly 170,000 at the height of the surge in late 2007 that is credited in part with turning around the war. A security agreement with the Iraqi government requires all U.S. troops to leave Iraq by the end of 2011.
A wide range of Iraqis from different walks of life have been targeted by insurgents since 2003. Topping the list are police and soldiers, politicians, government officials, academics and doctors, but athletes, artists and entertainers have also been killed.
The diversity of the targets have led many to believe that the insurgents were seeking to disrupt life and prevent a return to normalcy even as the levels of violence have dramatically dropped since 2008.
"I am surprised that we are being targeted," said a traffic police lieutenant in the Mansour area across the Tigris in the western part of Baghdad. "Our only weapon is the pen we use to write tickets," said the officer, who would only give his nickname, Abu Zahraa.
Associated Press writers Saad Abdul-Kadir and Hamid Ahmed contributed to this report.
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