Troops Raid Iraqi Mosque With Ties to Shiite Cleric

An Iraqi soldier inspects the debris left by a car bombing in the northern city of Mosul, which killed nine and wounded more than 50, police said.
An Iraqi soldier inspects the debris left by a car bombing in the northern city of Mosul, which killed nine and wounded more than 50, police said. (By Mohammed Ibrahim -- Associated Press)
By Joshua Partlow and K.I. Ibrahim
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, July 9, 2006

BAGHDAD, July 8 -- Iraqi troops raided a Shiite mosque frequented by followers of outspoken cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on Saturday, pushing farther into the fiercely guarded territory of Sadr's powerful militia, according to the U.S. military and Iraqi police.

Following a tip from a local resident, Iraqi security forces cordoned off the Sadrain Mosque in Zafraniya, southeast of Baghdad, at 5:45 p.m., the U.S. military said in a statement. Four hours later, national police searched the mosque, detained 20 people and seized six AK-47s.

Among those detained were mosque guards, two servants and a librarian, said Col. Abdul Razzak Mahmoud of the ministry's operations room.

The military did not mention any involvement by U.S. troops, but Mahmoud said the raid was conducted by American forces. U.S. troops frequently provide air or ground support for Iraqi military operations.

The reason for the raid remained unclear Saturday evening.

A spokesman for Sadr, Abdul Hadi al-Darraji, called the mosque search a serious provocation against Sadr's followers. "The occupation forces, by this latest escalation, are trying to pull the Sadr movement into a new confrontation in order to mobilize public opinion, under the guise that there are . . . terrorist forces inside" the Mahdi Army, he said, referring to Sadr's militia.

The raid capped another violent day in Iraq, as a car bomb killed three people outside a Shiite mosque in Baghdad and three U.S. soldiers died in fighting in a western province rife with insurgents.

The three soldiers, assigned to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, were killed in fighting in Anbar province, the U.S. military said in a statement. The circumstances of the killings and the names of the dead were not made public Saturday.

The car bomb exploded in the al-Jihad area of western Baghdad, killing three people and wounding 12 others, said Maj. Gen. Sadoon Abdul Ghani of the Interior Ministry. The national police also found four corpses, each disfigured by torture, in the Tigris River, he said.

Also in Baghdad, the U.S. military said, four children were killed and 38 wounded Friday night when four mortar shells landed in an open field where children frequently play in the Kadhimiya area.

Saturday's raid on the Sadrain Mosque marked a second consecutive day of confrontations with Sadr's followers. On Friday morning, Iraqi soldiers supported by U.S.-led coalition forces raided four homes in the Shiite slum of Sadr City and killed 30 to 40 insurgents in the ensuing firefight. The same day, U.S.-led forces captured a leader of the Mahdi Army in a separate operation in Babil province.

Before this week, the last major raid against Sadr's followers came in March, when U.S. and Iraqi special forces burst into a Shiite mosque in Baghdad, killing at least 16 people. Iraqi politicians angrily denounced what they said was the killing of innocent worshipers, but the U.S. military insisted the mosque was a hideout for armed insurgents.

Riyadh al-Nouri, Sadr's brother-in-law and a top official in his organization, criticized U.S. involvement in the recent raids against Sadr.

"If there are hunted people, it should be Iraqi forces who go after them," he said. "As long as we are democratic country, they should get a warrant, implemented by police, and foreign forces should not participate. This we would accept."

Nouri said in an interview that the council of top Shiite religious leaders in Iraq could lose patience with attacks against Shiites and call for an uprising.

"It depends on the people. If they are angry, they will fight," said Nouri. "Until now the Shiite giant has not begun to move."

Correspondent Jonathan Finer and special correspondents Saad al-Izzi and Naseer Nouri contributed to this report.

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