BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – A roadside bomb killed three American soldiers south of Baghdad on Friday as U.S. and Iraqi forces swept through a city to the north where three insurgents had been killed the day before after firing on U.S troops.

The three Americans died in the attack shortly before noon in Babil province, the U.S. military said, giving few other details. However, Iraqi police said the blast targeted a military convoy near Mahaweel, 35 miles south of Baghdad.

In Samarra, 60 miles north of the capital, American and Iraqi forces imposed a daytime curfew and searched neighborhoods looking for insurgents a day after three militants were killed after they opened fire on U.S. soldiers, police said.

Samarra was the scene of the Feb. 22 explosion at a Shiite shrine that enflamed sectarian tensions. It triggered reprisal attacks on Sunnis, forced tens of thousands of Iraqis to flee their homes and pushed the country to the brink of civil war.

American officials are hoping the new national unity government of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds will eventually reduce sectarian tensions and lure disaffected Sunni Arabs away from the insurgency so U.S. and other foreign troops can begin to go home.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has until late this month to complete his Cabinet, the final stage in organizing the new government. Haitham al-Husseini, a Shiite spokesman, said the Cabinet would be announced Tuesday.

The statement was made after a meeting among al-Maliki, President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, and two top Shiite leaders.

No Sunni Arabs politicians attended, and it was unclear whether the Sunnis had accepted the Tuesday date.

In a joint interview Friday with Al-Arabiya television, Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd, and Sunni Arab lawmaker Saleh al-Mutlaq clashed over whether the Kurds should retain the Foreign Ministry post.

Zebari, who has headed the ministry since 2003, said the Kurds deserved the ministry “due to our long struggle” against Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Al-Mutlaq described the talk of an impending Cabinet announcement “as a sword over our neck” and complained about the system of allocating top posts along religious or ethnic lines.

Six people, five of them Sunnis, were killed Friday when gunmen in three cars shot up and firebombed two small groceries in the capital’s Yarmouk district, police said. A community leader was slain by gunmen near Khalis 50 miles north of Baghdad, police said.

An Iraqi police major was assassinated in a drive-by shooting in Diwaniyah, 80 miles south of Baghdad, police said. And a Shiite cleric, Hussein Ahmed al-Mousawi, was shot and killed near his home in Baghdad’s Dora district, according to police Capt. Jamil Hussein.

The bodies of eight Iraqis who apparently were kidnapped and killed also were found Friday, five in Baghdad and three on the outskirts of the city, police said. Such sectarian killings by Shiite and Sunni “death squads” have become common in Iraq, especially in the capital.

The attack on the Americans raised to at least 2,416 the number of U.S. military members who have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

Elsewhere, gunmen kidnapped seven employees of the state-run company that operates oil fields in northern Iraq, police said. The workers were traveling by minibus to the refinery in Beiji when they were stopped by gunmen about 25 miles southwest of Kirkuk.

Security problems in the Kirkuk area, including attacks on pipelines, have hindered Iraq’s ability to exploit the vast potential of the northern oil fields. Nearly all of Iraq’s oil exports – averaging less than 2 million barrels a day – have come from the southern fields around Basra.

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