The cleric killings threaten to increase sectarian tensions in Iraq a day after the government vowed to crack down on anyone targeting Shiites and Sunnis. The defense minister said Iraqi troops would no longer be allowed to enter houses of worship or universities.
``I am hearing that Iraqi National Guards are raiding mosques and Shiite town houses,'' Defense Minister Saadoun al-Duleimi said Monday. ``We have issued orders to all units that say it is strictly prohibited to all members of the defense ministry to raid mosques, Shiite town houses and churches.''
U.S. troops and militants clashed in the northern city of Mosul on Tuesday, with heavy exchanges of machine gun fire heard, according to an Associated Press reporter at the scene.
U.S. forces were seen advancing into the eastern neighborhood of Dhubbat, a known insurgent stronghold in Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad.
``Forces were attacked and called in helicopters to support them in the battle with insurgents,'' said U.S. military spokesman Sgt. John H. Franzen. He did not have further details.
Heavy machine gun exchanges took place in the area between militants and U.S. forces, said the AP reporter who witnessed the clashes.
Elsewhere, a roadside bomb blast Tuesday killed one U.S. soldier and wounded another near Tikrit, north of Baghdad, the military said.
Shiite cleric Sheik Mouwaffaq al-Husseini was shot in a drive-by shooting by unknown gunmen while driving in Baghdad's western Jihad neighborhood, police Capt. Taleb Thamer said.
Two Sunni clerics were found shot dead after being kidnapped by men Sunday from different mosques in Baghdad's northern neighborhood of Shaab by men wearing Iraqi army uniforms, a senior police official said on condition of anonymity.
Shaab, a Shiite dominated area, was also where six bodies were found late Sunday near a dam. Two other victims were found alive but died later in the hospital. They were among the bodies of 50 men slain and dumped in various locations across Iraq.
Sheik Hamed al-Khazraji, a spokesman from the Sunni Muslim Association of Muslim Scholars, identified the two slain clerics as Sheik Hassan al-Naimi and Sheik Talal Nayef and confirmed the circumstances of their kidnappings.
Al-Naimi's body was found Tuesday and Nayef's on Monday, police and al-Khazraji said. The locations were their bodies were found were not immediately known.
An Associated Press photographer saw al-Naimi's relatives preparing documents to retrieve his body from Baghdad's coroner's office, where it was taken.
Attacks among Sunnis and Shiites have become common in the past weeks amid fears of violence between the two groups. Dozens of bodies of people from both sects were found in different areas around Baghdad.
Shiite cleric Qassim al-Gharawi died in a drive-by shooting in western Baghdad last week. Quraish Abdul Jabbar, a Sunni cleric, was reported shot dead and his body dumped behind a mosque in northeastern Baghdad on Monday.
During a Monday meeting with Iraq's top Shiite religious leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, al-Jaafari said his new government ``will strike against any criminal who tries to harm a Sunni or a Shiite citizen with an iron fist.''
Al-Sistani also stressed the need for ``fighting terrorism and guaranteeing security,'' but also urged his Shiite followers to exercise restraint in the face of provocative attacks, his aide said on condition of anonymity