Page 2 of 2   <      

Iraq Sends Troops Into Sadr City

U.S. and Iraqi soldiers are building a wall between the north and south sides of Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood, in hopes of creating a safe haven for the south amid ongoing conflicts.

"We are against violations of human rights," not against law enforcement, he said.

If security is restored, Ubaidi said, the onus is on Maliki to demonstrate that his government can repair Sadr City's battered infrastructure. But he predicted that "the money for rebuilding will go to the pockets of the thieves."

Abu Haider al-Bahadili, a Sadr City resident who identified himself as a Mahdi Army commander, said many in the district fear the government is using its military strength to weaken Sadr politically before elections in the fall. "It's a battle for the upcoming provincial elections," he said.

Still, after weeks of clashes that have killed hundreds of civilians in Sadr City, raised food prices sharply and restricted residents' mobility, most are willing to give the government the benefit of the doubt, he said.

"The people are welcoming of any peace principle or idea," he said. "So if the Iraqi army presence is for peace, then they are welcomed."

Capt. Charles Calio, a U.S. military spokesman, said U.S. troops stand ready to provide "advice, guidance and support as requested" by Iraqi officials.

"This operation is an Iraqi led, planned and executed operation, and is another example of the Iraqis' growing confidence and ability to independently carry out complex combat, police and humanitarian operations," he said in an e-mail.

The recent fighting in Sadr City began in late March, after Maliki cracked down on Shiite militias in the southern city of Basra. Militiamen in Sadr City responded by launching rockets into the heavily fortified Green Zone, where the U.S. Embassy and much of the Iraqi government is located.

Because U.S. and Iraqi troops who entered Sadr City came under attack, the U.S. military responded with helicopter-launched missiles and Abrams tanks. Scores of civilians were killed in the crossfire.

Iraqi security forces have removed more than 100 roadside bombs in the district in recent days, said Gen. Qassim Atta, a spokesman in Baghdad.

Atta said the additional troops started entering Sadr City at 5 a.m. They set up checkpoints and took positions in key parts of the district. A large contingent set up in front of the main Sadr office in the district, on Dakhil Street. Office workers said they saw snipers stationed on roofs along the road.

Between 9,000 and 12,000 soldiers and police were deployed to Sadr City, said an official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the information.

Also Tuesday, Maliki issued a statement saying he had received an apology from President Bush for the conduct of U.S. soldier who used a Koran for target practice at a shooting range. The episode, which drew condemnation from Iraqi officials, also prompted U.S. commanders to apologize and to pull the soldier from Iraq.

Special correspondent Saad al-Izzi contributed to this report.

<       2

© 2008 The Washington Post Company