30 militants killed in battle with allied patrol, U.S. says

But Iraqi witnesses dispute any fatalities

October 09, 2006|By Doug Smith and Zeena Kareem | Doug Smith and Zeena Kareem,Los Angeles Times

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- American and Iraqi forces fended off an assault early yesterday in the southern city of Diwaniyah, where the Iraqi army fought a major battle with Shiite Muslim militias in August, the U.S. military said.

An Army statement said that 30 militants were killed, and a spokeswoman for the U.S.-led coalition said last night that helicopter crews supporting the ground units had counted the dead.

But Iraqi witnesses to the early morning firefight said three to seven people were injured and no one was killed.

The Army statement also said that an M1A2 Abrams tank was severely damaged by rocket-propelled grenades, but no U.S. or Iraqi soldiers were killed or injured in the fighting.

Ten Iraqis were detained, including one described as "a high-value target," the Army said. The suspect was believed to have been involved in the execution-style killings of several Iraqi soldiers who had run out of ammunition during the Aug. 28 battle, which left 25 Iraqi soldiers dead.

There were conflicting versions of both the extent of the fighting yesterday and its cause.

Local followers of anti-U.S. Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr played down the incident, saying that his Mahdi Army was not involved.

"We do not want to retaliate because Muqtada al-Sadr ordered an unarmed retaliation with no bloodshed," said Mohammed Abdul Hassan, an al-Sadr follower on Qadisiyah province's governing council.

Some al-Sadr adherents said residents of Diwaniyah were not expecting raids during the holy month of Ramadan and reacted by opening fire on the troops.

The Army said a joint U.S.-Iraqi patrol went into the city about 1:30 a.m. to detain the "high-value target," who was not named. The patrol came under attack by small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades.

As many as 10 teams of militants armed with rocket-propelled grenades attacked the tank, and members of six teams were killed, the Army statement said. Soldiers secured the area while the tank was recovered. Additional Iraqi soldiers continued the mission and arrested the suspect, the statement said.

Iraqi Brig. Gen. Othamn Ghanim said the fighting started when a roadside bomb hit the convoy.

Witnesses said the shooting had stopped by 6 a.m., and the town was placed under a curfew. Hassan, the al-Sadr follower, said that the curfew was lifted by 5 p.m. and that the U.S. and Iraqi forces were gone last night.

Tension has remained high in the city, 90 miles south of Baghdad, since the August battle. Members of al-Sadr's group, many of whom hold positions in local government, complain that U.S. patrols have come almost nightly to search houses and arrest residents suspected of being involved in the August battle.

"U.S. forces conduct raids on houses and make people really angry at them," said Saleem Abid, the press officer in the al-Sadr organization in Qadisiyah province.

Also yesterday, lawmakers ratified an Iraqi Cabinet decision to distribute 10,000 dinars, or about $7, to each Iraqi at the close of Ramadan as an offering for Eid al-Fitr, the traditional day of giving.

Parliament also voted to strip one of its members of immunity, allowing his prosecution on corruption charges.

Mishaan Jaburi, chief of the Reconciliation and Liberation bloc, is accused of embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from the funds for oil line security. He has fled the country.

Doug Smith and Zeena Kareem write for the Los Angeles Times.

Killed in Iraq

As of yesterday, at least 2,744 members of the U.S. military have died since March 2003.

Identifications

Sgt. Joseph W. Perry, 23, Alpine, Calif.; killed Oct. 2 by small-arms fire in Muhallah; assigned to the Army's 21st Military Police Company, 16th Military Police Brigade, XVIII Airborne Corps; Fort Bragg, N.C.

Spc. Raymond S. Armijo, 22, Phoenix; Staff Sgt. James D. Ellis, 25, Valdosta, Ga.; Spc. Justin R. Jarrett, 21, Jonesboro, Ga.; Spc. Kristofer C. Walker, 20, Creve Coeur, Ill.; killed Oct. 2 when an explosive detonated near their vehicle in Taji; assigned to the Army's 7th Squadron, 10th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Hood, Texas.

Sgt. Denise A. Lannaman, 46, Bayside, N.Y.; died Oct. 1 in a noncombat incident at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait; assigned to the Army National Guards 1569th Transportation Company; Newburgh, N.Y.

[Associated Press]

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