By Nancy Trejos
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 2, 2007
BAGHDAD, Jan. 1 -- U.S. forces killed six people during a raid on a suspected safe house of the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq in the capital Monday morning, the military said.
A prominent Sunni member of parliament condemned the operation, saying that two of his buildings were destroyed and two of his bodyguards were killed in the attack. He said his bodyguards were not insurgents and questioned the point of the raid.
"Where is al-Qaeda, and where is the insurgency here?" Saleh al-Mutlak, head of the Sunni-led Iraqi National Dialogue Front, said in a telephone interview.
As troops approached the suspected safe house, people in nearby buildings, including one owned by Mutlak, attacked them with automatic weapons and hand grenades, the military said.
According to a military statement, the troops fired back, killing two suspects. Several armed men then fled into a nearby building and fired at them from the roof.
Under fire from several directions, the troops killed four more suspects and detained one, the military said. Two buildings erupted in flames during the battle, it said.
Mutlak said the destroyed buildings housed the offices of his Iraqi National Dialogue Front, a coalition of political parties that has called for an end to the presence of foreign troops. Although it is led by a Sunni, it also includes Kurds, Assyrians and politicians from other ethnic groups. Its members hold 11 of the 275 seats in parliament.
"They came to the office of the Iraqi Front, which is part of the government, part of the political process," Mutlak said. "We don't believe in violence. Why would they do that?"
Mutlak said the troops had no reason to shoot at his building and that his bodyguards fired back only to protect themselves, thinking they were being attacked by militiamen.
He also said the four other people killed were civilians, not insurgents.
In an e-mail response to written questions, the military disputed Mutlak's account, saying no civilians were killed or injured and that "the terrorists killed were armed males firing at Coalition Forces."
Mutlak, who was not at the building during the raid, said he received frantic calls from his guards early in the morning. He said he called the U.S. Embassy and left several messages but did not receive a response.
"I'm a member of parliament, and they don't even call me," he said.
Lou Fintor, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, said, "We're aware of the reports, and we're looking into them."
In Auja, the home village of ousted president Saddam Hussein, mourners continued to pay respects. Hussein was buried there Sunday, a day after his execution by hanging in Baghdad.
Following the execution, the Interior Ministry ordered the closure of the Baghdad office of al-Sharqiya television, accusing the independent channel of fomenting violence, according to two other Iraqi television stations. The channel's office in Dubai remained open, allowing it to continue broadcasting. Many Iraqis say Sharqiya's coverage reflects the views of Sunnis.
Also Monday, a day after the number of American service members killed since the start of the war reached 3,000, the military announced the deaths of two more soldiers.
The two Task Force Lightning soldiers, assigned to 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, were killed Sunday after an explosion in Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad. Two other soldiers were wounded in the attack.
The latest deaths, occurring on the final day of 2006, brought to 113 the number of U.S. troops killed in December, according to iCasualties.org, an independent Web site that counts war fatalities. The death toll for December was the highest of the year and the highest since November 2004.