Sadr City raid draws rebuke from Maliki

The U.S. says only militants were killed, but residents say troops rolled in and opened fire.

Published July 1, 2007

BAGHDAD - Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki condemned a U.S. raid Saturday 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 U.S. military said all those killed in the fighting were gunmen, some of them firing from behind civilian cars. But residents said eight civilians were killed in their homes and angrily accused American troops of firing wildly during the predawn assault.

Sadr City is the Iraqi capital's largest Shiite neighborhood - home to some 2.5-million people - making U.S. raids there potentially embarrassing for Maliki's Shiite-led government. The district is also the stronghold of the Mahdi Army, a militia loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who was once Maliki's ally.

"The Iraqi government totally rejects U.S. military operations ... conducted without prior approval from the Iraqi military command, " Maliki said in a statement concerning the Sadr City raid. "Anyone who breaches the military command orders will face investigation."

In Muqdadiyah, 60 miles 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 U.S. military also said a U.S. soldier was killed and three others were wounded Friday when a sophisticated, armor-piercing bomb hit their combat patrol in southern Baghdad.

U.S. troops have discovered a mass grave with as many as 40 bodies near Fallujah in western Iraq, the U.S. military said Saturday. Between 35 and 40 bodies - with gunshot wounds and bound limbs - were discovered at the site, the statement said. It was unclear who the victims were.

The U.S. military said it conducted two pre-dawn raids in Sadr City, killing 26 "terrorists" who attacked U.S. troops with small arms fire, rocket-propelled grenades and roadside bombs.

U.S. troops detained 17 men suspected of helping Iranian terror networks fund operations in Iraq, a military statement said. There were no U.S. casualties.

Witnesses said U.S. forces rolled into their neighborhood before dawn and opened fire without warning.

"At about 4 a.m., a big American convoy with tanks came and began to open fire on houses - bombing them, " said Basheer Ahmed, who lives in Sadr City's Habibiya district. "What did we do? We didn't even retaliate - there was no resistance."

According to Iraqi officials, the dead included three members of one family - a father, mother and son. Several women and children, along with two policemen, were among the wounded, they said.

A policeman wounded in the raid, Montadhar Kareem, said he was on night duty in the Habibiya area when U.S. troops moved in and "began bombing houses in the area."

"The bombing became more intense, and I was injured by shrapnel in both my legs and in my left shoulder, " Kareem said from a gurney at Al Sadr General Hospital.

Hours afterward, a funeral procession snaked through the streets of Sadr City's Orfali district. Three coffins were hoisted atop cars.