U.S. troops in gun battle in Shiite area

October 22, 2007|By Christian Berthelsen | Christian Berthelsen,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD -- U.S. forces engaged in an hours-long gun battle with militants during an early morning raid in the Shiite Muslim district of Sadr City yesterday and killed as many as 49 people.

Iraqi police and hospital officials, who often overstate casualties, reported 15 deaths, including three children. Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said all the dead were civilians. The American military said that all of those killed were "criminals."

A freelance correspondent for the Los Angeles Times said he saw the corpses of a woman and two small children. Among the wounded were an 8-year-old and an 11-year-old, who were interviewed in their beds at Imam Ali hospital by the Times. Another man said his 1 1/2 -year old son was killed, as well as a neighbor's son who was the same age.

U.S. officials said the raid did not capture or kill its target, identified as the leader of a kidnapping cell that is part of a Shiite militant movement called the Special Groups -- a splinter group of the Mahdi Army. American officials believe the special groups are trained, funded and supplied by Iran through its Revolutionary Guard forces.

The White House declined comment on the clash in Sadr City.

Yesterday's fighting occurred after incidents in recent weeks in which U.S. forces killed 15 civilians in an attack on alleged leaders of al-Qaida in Iraq, and Western private security contractors shot and killed unarmed Iraqi civilians, inflaming anti-U.S. sentiment.

Iraqi government spokesman al-Dabbagh, speaking on CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer, said that such attacks are "not creating a good atmosphere. ... We have today, again, one more problem created."

In Najaf, Salah Ubaidi, a spokesman for al-Sadr, who has called for near-term rapprochement with the U.S., said: "We denounce these acts. We have no option but to denounce. We have grown tired from the many denouncements we have made."

The Iraqi Interior Ministry, which oversees the Iraqi police force, said 13 civilians were killed and 69 were wounded. The U.S. military issued two statements in which the total number of victims grew from six up to 49. Officials did not explain how they arrived at the casualty figures or explain the discrepancy between their total and the Iraqi government's. A military spokesman said soldiers did not suffer any casualties or injuries.

Christian Berthelsen writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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