U.S Troops Raid Baghdad Shiite District

The Associated Press
Friday, July 13, 2007; 2:36 AM

BAGHDAD -- U.S. troops raided a Shiite area of Baghdad on Thursday, capturing two militants believed linked to Iran and sparking a battle that Iraqi officials said killed 19 people. Two employees of the Reuters news agency were among the dead.

Angry residents of the Amin district _ many of them Shiites who fled to Baghdad from Baqouba, where U.S. troops are waging an offensive against insurgents _ accused U.S. helicopters of striking buildings during the fight with gunmen and killing civilians.

The U.S. military said Friday that nine insurgents and two civilians _ the Reuters personnel _ were killed.

Iraqi police and hospital officials who put the toll at 19 said the dead included at least one woman and two children, and some of the men slain appeared to have been armed and firing on the Americans.

AP Television News footage showed buildings riddled with holes from heavy machine gun and rocket fire, and a minibus with its front seat blasted away.

U.S. forces have been waging an intensified security crackdown against Shiite and Sunni militants in and around Baghdad for nearly a month, as the Iraqi government struggles to make political progress. Disputes among Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish leaders have severely weakened Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki even as the United States presses him to enact reforms.

One of Iraq's most powerful Shiite politicians, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, underlined his support of al-Maliki in comments to The Associated Press on Thursday. Al-Hakim said his party _ the biggest in parliament _ was working with al-Maliki on a government reshuffle that would strengthen the prime minister.

The violence in the Amin district in eastern Baghdad began with a pre-dawn raid by U.S. forces, who captured two militants involved in kidnappings and planting roadside bombs against American and Iraqi troops, the military said in a statement. Militants fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the troops, hitting a nearby building, according to the military.

The militants belonged to Iranian-backed "special groups" linked to the Mahdi Army, the militia loyal to anti-U.S. Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, the military said. The U.S. has accused Iran's Revolutionary Guards of organizing and arming a network of the special groups to carry out attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces as well as kidnappings.

After the initial raid, U.S. troops surrounded the neighborhood for several hours, announcing with loudspeakers to residents that they were seeking militants and that they should stay inside, said an Iraqi police official who was at the scene.

As the Americans withdrew about 11 a.m., they came under fire, the official said. That prompted troops to move back into the district, assaulting several buildings. A U.S. attack helicopter struck targets on the ground, he said.

The result was a battle with militants that included mortars and rockets, the official said. Several explosions hit residential buildings, killing eight people, including a woman and two children, said the official and another police officer involved in counting the casualties. They could not say whether the blasts came from the helicopter or from militants.

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