BAGHDAD -- Aides to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr appeared yesterday to place conditions on his call for a six-month halt to militia operations, but the Iraqi capital was noticeably calm a day after the announced cease-fire.
Al-Sadr, whose Mahdi Army militia fought two bloody battles with U.S. forces in 2004, said Wednesday that he was ordering a halt to hostile actions for six months. But in Sadr City, Abu Firas Muteri, an aide to the anti-American cleric, said: "The halt can be revoked at any time if there is a need for that."
Also yesterday, a military cargo plane carrying three senators and a member of the House was forced to take evasive maneuvers and dispatch flares to avoid ground fire after taking off from Baghdad last night. The lawmakers - Republican Sens. Mel Martinez of Florida, Richard C. Shelby of Alabama and James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, as well as Democratic Rep. Robert E. "Bud" Cramer of Alabama - said their plane, a C-130, was under fire from three rocket-propelled grenades as they left for Amman, Jordan.
The U.S. military reported the deaths of two soldiers in combat operations, one in western Baghdad yesterday and the other in Diyala province a day earlier.
Iraqis in Nubai, about 40 miles north of Baghdad in Salahuddin province, reported seeing a U.S. helicopter explode and crash early yesterday, but the U.S. military denied the report.
Meanwhile, a senior Iraqi official cautioned against expecting "magical solutions" from the coming reports to Congress on military and political progress in Iraq and acknowledged that Iraqis are not ready to defend the country on their own.
"The whole world is waiting anxiously to see what this report will indicate," said Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari. "I believe that this report would not provide any magical solutions or provide any instant answers to the difficulties and challenges we are going through."
Elsewhere in Iraq, a group that calls itself the Islamic State of Iraq claimed on its Arabic-language Web site to have executed a kidnapped employee of the U.S. Embassy here. The victim was identified as Zaher Abdel Mohsin Abdel-Saheb and was said to be an official of the U.S. government. However, a senior U.S. diplomat said the name was not listed on any roster of current employees.
Two roadside bombs went off in Baghdad, killing a civilian and injuring five others on what passed for a quiet day in the city. The number of bodies found in the capital - five - was less than half the usual toll from sectarian death squads.
Elsewhere, assassins, roadside bombs and booby-trapped cars killed at least a dozen people, including four Iraqi police in Samarra and a senior oil industry official in Najaf.
Two bombs detonated in Kirkuk. The second one killed at least seven people and injured 10 in a crowd that gathered at the scene of the first explosion.
Carol J. Williams writes for the Los Angeles Times. The Associated Press contributed to this article.