U.S. pulls back after raid in Karbala

Troops search house used by Shiite cleric

2 soldiers killed in attack in Kirkuk

October 20, 2003|By Edmund Sanders and Raheem Salman | Edmund Sanders and Raheem Salman,LOS ANGELES TIMES

KARBALA, Iraq -- A confrontation between American troops and supporters of a militant Shiite cleric eased yesterday after U.S. forces withdrew from around a house formerly used by the Muslim leader and handed over control of the area to Iraqi police.

The troops, who had surrounded the house and several nearby buildings Saturday, pulled back after an early morning raid, neighbors said.

The Americans apparently searched the buildings for the cleric, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hassani, and his supporters, who are accused of killing three American soldiers in a shootout last week. No suspects were found, the witnesses said.

By yesterday afternoon, the U.S. military had removed many of its roadblocks from the area.

"We've contained the situation," said an official with the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority who requested anonymity. "We and the Iraqi police are in full control of the city."

Separately, two U.S. soldiers were killed and one was wounded when their patrol was attacked outside the northern city of Kirkuk on Saturday by assailants using small arms and rocket-propelled grenades, a military spokesman said yesterday.

Their deaths brought to 338 the number of Americans killed in Iraq since the war began March 20.

And in the central Iraq town of Fallujah, where opposition to the U.S.-led occupation remains high, a U.S. military ammunition truck exploded yesterday after being attacked.

No casualties were reported in the explosion, which attracted dozens of cheering onlookers.

The confrontation in Karbala began last week when armed supporters of Hassani battled U.S. soldiers and Iraqi police who were attempting to enforce an emergency curfew imposed after clashes between rival Shiite Muslim groups.

An ensuing gunfight killed two Iraqi police officers and three U.S. soldiers, including a military police battalion commander, Lt. Col. Kim S. Orlando. Several Hassani supporters also were killed in the shootout.

Shortly after midnight yesterday, U.S. forces raided the rented house being used by Hassani and several nearby homes and schools, according to neighbors. The searches lasted until about 4 a.m.

Some neighbors expressed relief that Hassani's supporters appeared to have fled the area. "We don't support such false clerics," said Ismail Khaleel, 71, who lives next door to the house used by Hassani supporters. "These are terrorists and extremists. We don't want them in Karbala."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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