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US: Raid of Baghdad's Sadr City Kills 49

Early Sunday, Kurdish separatist rebels who take shelter in the rugged mountains on the Iraqi side of the frontier ambushed a military unit inside Turkey and killed at least 12 soldiers. Turkish forces responded by lobbing at least 15 artillery shells toward mainly abandoned Kurdish villages inside Iraq, according to Iraqi border guard Col. Hussein Rashid. He said there were no casualties.

In the Sadr City raid, the U.S. military said forces killed "an estimated 49 criminals" in three linked attacks during an intelligence-driven raid to capture the rogue Shiite kidnapper who was partially funded by Iran.

U.S. troops returned fire under attack from automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades from nearby buildings as they began raiding structures in the district, according to a statement. It said 33 militants were killed in the firefight. Ground forces then called in helicopter airstrikes, which killed six more militants.

As American soldiers left the zone, troops were hit by a roadside bomb and continued heavy fire, killing 10 more combatants.

"All total, coalition forces estimate that 49 criminals were killed in three separate engagements during this operation. Ground forces reported they were unaware of any innocent civilians being killed as a result of this operation," the military said.

A local resident who goes by the name Abu Fatmah said his neighbor's 14-year-old son, Saif Alwan, was killed while sleeping on the roof.

"Saif was killed by an airstrike and what is his guilt? Is he from the Mahdi Army? He is a poor student," Abu Fatmah said.

An uncle of 2-year-old Ali Hamid said the boy was killed and his parents seriously wounded when helicopter gunfire pierced the wall and windows of their house as they slept indoors.

Relatives gathered at Sadr City's Imam Ali hospital where the emergency room was overwhelmed with bloodied casualties. The dead were placed in caskets covered by Iraqi flags.

APTN video showed three bloodied boys sitting on hospital tables and an elderly man being treated for a head wound. Mourners tied wooden coffins onto the tops of minivans with a plume of smoke in the background. Other footage showed a U.S. helicopter flying over the area while black smoke rose.

The sweeps into Sadr City have sent a strong message that U.S. forces plan no letup on suspected Shiite militia cells despite objections from the Shiite-led government of al-Maliki, who is working for closer cooperation with Shiite heavyweight Iran.

An Iraqi military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, said the government would ask the Americans for an explanation of Sunday's raid and stressed the need to avoid civilian deaths.

The government has issued mixed reactions to the raids and airstrikes, particularly those that have targeted Sunni extremists.

U.S. troops backed by attack aircraft killed 19 suspected insurgents and 15 civilians, including nine children, in an operation Oct. 11 targeting al-Qaida in Iraq leaders northwest of Baghdad.

Al-Maliki's government said those killings were a "sorrowful matter," but emphasized that civilian deaths are unavoidable in the fight against al-Qaida in Iraq.


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© 2007 The Associated Press