Mon, Jul 02, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Iraqi prime minister condemns US raid on Sadr City

AP , BAGHDAD

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki condemned a US raid on Saturday in Baghdad's Shiite Sadr City slum -- a politically sensitive district for him -- in which US troops searching for Iranian-linked militants sparked a firefight that left 26 Iraqis dead.

The US military said all those killed in the fighting were gunmen, some of them firing from behind civilian cars. But residents said eight civilians were killed in their homes and angrily accused US troops of firing wildly during the pre-dawn assault.

Sadr City is the Iraqi capital's largest Shiite neighborhood -- home to some 2.5 million people -- making US raids there potentially embarrassing for al-Maliki's Shiite-led government. The district is also the stronghold of the Mehdi Army, a militia loyal to anti-US cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who was once al-Maliki's ally.

"The Iraqi government totally rejects US military operations ... conducted without prior approval from the Iraqi military command," al-Maliki said in a statement concerning the Sadr City raid. "Anyone who breaches the military command orders will face investigation."

Al-Maliki last year banned military operations in Sadr City without his approval after complaints from his Shiite political allies. The ban frustrated US commanders pushing for a crackdown on the Mehdi Army, blamed for sectarian killings.

Al-Maliki later agreed that no area of the capital was off-limits, after US President George W. Bush ordered reinforcements to Iraq as part of the Baghdad security operation.

In Muqdadiyah, 90km north of the capital, police said a suicide bomber blew himself up near a crowd of police recruits on Saturday, killing at least 23 people and wounding 17. The US military also announced the death of a US soldier on Friday, and the wounding of three others, when a sophisticated, armor-piercing bomb hit their combat patrol in southern Baghdad.

US troops have discovered a mass grave with as many as 40 bodies near Fallujah in western Iraq, the US military said on Saturday. Between 35 and 40 bodies -- with gunshot wounds and limbs bound -- were discovered at site, the statement said. US military officials are investigating, it said, without elaborating, and it was unclear who the victims were.

The US military said it conducted two pre-dawn raids in Sadr City, killing 26 "terrorists" who attacked US troops with small arms fire, rocket-propelled grenades and roadside bombs. But Iraqi officials said all the dead were civilians.

An US military spokesman insisted all of those killed were combatants.

"Everyone who got shot was shooting at US troops at the time," said Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Garver. "It was an intense firefight."

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