US forces killed nine suspects in a raid early yesterday on the Baghdad stronghold of a powerful Shiite militia, the military said. Iraqi police and witnesses said only three people were killed, all civilians.
Iraqi officials said eight others were injured in the pre-dawn operation in Sadr City -- home to 2.5 million of Baghdad's poorest residents as well the Mehdi Army, a militia loyal to anti-US cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Last month, al-Sadr called a temporary halt to the group's activities after deadly Shiite-on-Shiite violence in Karbala.
A resident who described himself as a tribal leader, Hussein Mohammed Mishan, said one of those killed was a teenage boy who was shot dead by US troops when he opened his front door to see what was going on outside.
A neighbor who gave only his nickname, Abu Ali, said: "What did this young man do to deserve this? His mother was shouting for help at 4am, but we were helpless because American soldiers were all around. Anyone who comes out will be shot."
At least two children were among the wounded, an Iraqi officer said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.
The US raid was conducted to "detain criminals involved in murder, kidnapping, IED and mortar attacks and weapons smuggling," the military said in a statement.
Nine "armed terrorists" were killed and eight others were captured, it said.
The Iraqi officer put the number of suspects arrested at 10, and said eight civilian cars were damaged as well. Several sheep and cattle were also killed in a yard fire ignited by gunfire, he said.
Associated Press Television News (APTN) footage showed at least four flattened cars, with windshields shattered and doors crumpled. Witnesses said US military vehicles had driven over then in narrow dirt passageways between city blocks.
The video also showed at least two homes with door locks blown off and the interiors ransacked.
The US statement said US aircraft fired on a dump truck believed to have been used by terrorists. It was destroyed.
Meanwhile, Iraq's prime minister said the nation's armed forces were not ready to fight without US help.
The appeal for more time from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki echoed some of the key struggles in Washington as lawmakers began long-awaited hearings on US strategies in Iraq.
Among the core issues is whether Iraq's leadership is moving fast enough toward political reconciliation and assuming security responsibilities while US troop deaths have risen to at least 3,772 in the four-and-one-half-year war.
Al-Maliki told Iraq's parliament that the US military is still needed despite what he described as a sharp drop in violence in the Baghdad area since US President George W. Bush ordered nearly 30,000 extra troops to Iraq this year.
"We still need more efforts and time in order for our armed forces to be able to take over security in all Iraqi provinces from the multinational forces that helped us a great deal in fighting terrorism and outlaws," al-Maliki said just hours before US Ambassador Ryan Crocker and the top US commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, began statements on Capitol Hill.
Al-Maliki said violence had dropped 75 percent in the Baghdad area since stepped-up military operations began in the capital on Feb. 14.
He also said his government had kept the country from descending into all-out Sunni-Shiite civil war after the wave of sectarian bloodletting last year.