Gulf News – 2007-07-03 22:29:03
BAGHDAD (July 1, 2007) — Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki condemned a US raid yesterday in Baghdad’s Shiite Sadr City slum – a politically sensitive district for him – in which American troops searching for Iranian-linked militants sparked a firefight that left 26 Iraqis dead.
The US military said all those killed in the fighting were gunmen.
But residents said eight civilians were killed in their homes and angrily accused American troops of firing wildly during the pre-dawn assault.
Sadr City is the Iraqi capital’s largest Shiite neighbourhood – home to some 2.5 million people – making US raids there potentially embarrassing for Al Maliki’s Shiite-led government. The district is also the stronghold of the Mahdi Army, a militia loyal to anti-American cleric Moqtada Al Sadr, who was once Al Maliki’s ally.
“The Iraqi government totally rejects US military operations … conducted without prior approval from the Iraqi military command,” Al Maliki said in a statement concerning the Sadr City raid. “Anyone who breaches the military command orders will face investigation.”
Al Maliki last year banned military operations in Sadr City without his approval after complaints from his Shiite political allies. The ban frustrated US commanders pushing for a crackdown on the Mahdi Army.
Al Maliki later agreed that no area of the capital was off-limits, after US President George W. Bush ordered reinforcements to Iraq as part of the Baghdad security operation.
Also yesterday, the military announced that two American soldiers were charged with the premeditated murder of three Iraqis and with planting weapons on the bodies to cover up the slayings, which took place between April and June near Iskandariyah, 50km south of Baghdad.
23 Dead in Blast
Staff Sgt Michael A. Hensley from Candler, North Carolina, was jailed on Thursday in Kuwait, facing three counts each of premeditated murder, obstructing justice and wrongfully placing the weapons. Spc Jorge G. Sandoval, arrested at his home in Laredo, Texas, faces one count each of premeditated murder and planting a weapon, the military said.
In Muqdadiyah, 90km north of the capital, police said a suicide bomber blew himself up near a crowd of police recruits, killing at least 23 people and wounding 17.
The US military said it conducted two pre-dawn raids in Sadr City, killing 26 ‘terrorists’ who attacked US troops with small arms fire, rocket-propelled grenades and roadside bombs. But Iraqi officials said all the dead were civilians.
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