BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraq’s president said Saturday that he had been assured that American troops will stay in his country as long as needed, on a day in which at least 14 people were killed in explosions and gunfire nationwide as vehicle restrictions were lifted in Baghdad. A top U.S. general, meanwhile, said he was “very, very pleased” with the response of Iraqi armed forces in containing recent sectarian bloodshed, disputing critics who said too little was done to quell attacks that killed more than 500 people the past week. Gen. John Abizaid, chief of U.S. Central Command, spent two days in Baghdad meeting with top Iraqi leaders after the Feb. 22 bombing of a golden-domed Shiite shrine in Samarra triggered reprisal attacks against Sunnis that pushed the country to the brink of civil war. Iraqi security forces blunted the sectarian killing with an extraordinary daytime curfew in four flashpoint provinces last weekend, followed by a driving ban in Baghdad on Friday. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORECasino Insider: Here’s a look at San Manuel’s new high limit rooms, Asian restaurant But with the ban lifted on Saturday, violence resumed, with a bomb exploding at a bus terminal in southeastern Baghdad, killing seven people and wounding 25. Abizaid said he was “very, very pleased with the reaction of the Iraqi armed forces during the aftermath of the bombing in Samarra.” He warned that more such attacks were likely but added: “We believe that the Iraqi armed forces, in conjunction with the multinational force, can deal with any security problem that may arise.” That was a more upbeat assessment than the one given Thursday by the U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. George W. Casey, who told reporters that Iraqi police and army units had performed “generally well, not uniformly well.” Casey said the mostly Shiite security forces sometimes gave armed sectarian fighters free rein in Baghdad and Basra, where reprisal attacks against Sunni mosques and clerics took days to contain. U.S. officials have expressed concern about the role of private militias in the violence. But Iraqi Interior Minister Bayan Jabr said Saturday the government was making progress integrating militiamen into its structures. Some are joining the security forces, but most will be given jobs in government departments, while those over age 50 will retire, he said at a news briefing. The question remained whether militiamen would comply and whether the government would get tough on enforcing the integration policy. Sunni Arab politicians accuse militiamen operating within the Interior Ministry ranks of kidnapping and killing their people under the cover of fighting the Sunni-dominated insurgency. Jabr denies the accusations. Early today, Interior Ministry commandos stormed a Sunni mosque in west Baghdad, killing three people – including the mosque imam and his son – in a 25 minute gunbattle, police said. The cause of the clash was not known nor was the name of the Sunni cleric who was killed. U.S. forces blocked off the area after the exchange of fire, which also wounded seven people, said police Lt. Maitham Abdul Rezzaq. The surge of sectarian killing has complicated already tangled negotiations to form a broad-based government after the Dec. 15 parliamentary election, which U.S. officials consider essential to stabilize the country so their troops can start pulling out this summer. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, visiting Iraq as part of her duties on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said it was imperative that Iraqi politicians act quickly to get a government in place. “The security vacuum will continue to develop if there isn’t a permanent and strong leadership soon,” Snowe told The Associated Press. CASUALTY UPDATE As of Saturday, March 4, 2006, at least 2,299 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. The figure includes seven military civilians. At least 1,805 died as a result of hostile action, according to the military’s numbers. The AP count is three lower than the Defense Department’s tally, last updated Friday at 10 a.m. EST. The British military has reported 103 deaths; Italy, 27; Ukraine, 18; Poland, 17; Bulgaria, 13; Spain, 11; Slovakia, 3; Denmark, El Salvador, Estonia, Netherlands, Thailand, 2 each; and Hungary, Kazakhstan, Latvia, 1 death each. – Associated Press 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!