U.S. troops raided a Shiite
neighborhood of Baghdad on Thursday in a hunt for militiamen linked to Iran,
sparking exchanges of fire and a mortar attack. Officials said 19 people were
killed, and residents said some of the casualties were caused by U.S. helicopter
In this image released by the Iraqi
government, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, center, and tribal
leaders from Basra and Nasiriyah provinces meet in Baghdad Thursday, July
12, 2007. [AP]
The U.S. military had no immediate comment on the violence in the eastern
Amin district of the capital.
The violence began with a pre-dawn raid by U.S. forces that the military said
captured two militants involved in kidnappings and planting roadside bombs
against U.S. and Iraqi troops. Militants fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the
troops, hitting a nearby building, the military said.
U.S. troops later surrounded the neighborhood, announcing via loudspeakers to
residents that they were seeking militants and that they should stay inside,
said an Iraqi police official who was at the scene. As the Americans withdrew
around 11 a.m., they came under fire, prompting troops to move back into the
district, assaulting several buildings, the official said.
The result was an exchange of fire that included mortars and rockets, the
official said. Residents ¡ª many of them Shiites who fled to Baghdad from
Baqouba, where U.S. forces have been waging a three-week-old offensive ¡ª said
that during the fighting, a U.S. helicopter hit several residential buildings
and a minibus.
AP Television News video showed buildings riddled with holes from heavy
machine guns and rockets, and a heavily damaged minibus.
Another police official involved in compiling casualties said 19 people were
killed and 20 wounded, a toll confirmed by officials from the three hospitals
where the victims were taken. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity
because they were not authorized to release the information.
An Iraqi photographer and driver employed by Reuters news agency were killed
Thursday in eastern Baghdad, the London-based agency said. The hospital
officials said the two Reuters staffers ¡ª identified as photographer Namir
Noor-Eldeen, 22, and driver Saeed Chmagh, 40 ¡ª were among the 19 dead in Amin.
"The cause of their deaths was unclear, although witnesses spoke of an
explosion in the area," Reuters said. "Iraqi police said either a U.S. airstrike
or a mortar attack had occurred."
U.S. and Iraqi forces have been cracking down on Shiite militants even as
they wage offensives in and around Baghdad aimed at uprooting Sunni insurgents
and extremists from al-Qaida in Iraq. The campaign seeks to reduce violence in
the capital to boost the government as it tries to push through political
The military said the two captured militants belonged to Iranian-backed
"special groups" linked to the Mahdi Army, the militia loyal to anti-U.S. Shiite
cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The U.S. has accused Iran's Revolutionary Guards of
organizing and arming a network of the special groups to carry out attacks on
U.S. and Iraqi forces and kidnappings.
In southern Iraq, clashes erupted between Shiite militants and the Iraqi
army, killing a soldier and a civilian in the city of Diwaniyah, police said.
The clashes came hours after the U.S. military said aircraft struck a group of
militants planting a roadside bomb before dawn, killing five of the militants.
A suicide bomber detonated an explosives belt near a wedding party in Tal
Afar, a city 260 miles northwest of Baghdad that has seen frequent bombings by
Sunni insurgents. A police officer in Tal Afar said five people were killed and
five wounded, although the bride and groom escaped injury. The officer spoke on
condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to talk to the press.
On Thursday, robbers stole about $680,000 from a bank in central Baghdad,
police said. The theft at the private Dar al-Salam bank was discovered by the
bank manager when it opened in the morning, and suspicions fell on overnight
guards, a police official said. Arrest warrants have been issued against the
guards, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was
not authorized to talk to the press.
While the military presses ahead with its offensives, Iraqi politicians have
been mired in divisions holding up passage of key political benchmarks sought by
the United States to encourage the country's Sunni Arab minority to support the
Sunni Arabs are boycotting the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki
and the parliament because of various political disputes. Sunnis and Kurds have
come out against a draft of a key oil law, the first of the benchmarks.
For weeks, al-Maliki has been speaking of a Cabinet reshuffle to streamline
his fragile government to a core of parties to push through log-jammed
legislation. But so far, a new Cabinet has not emerged.
"Work is going on to back the prime minister and to strengthen the government
and stand by its side ... and work so that the government be more powerful than
it is today," Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of Iraq's largest Shiite political
party, told The Associated Press.
Al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq, said his party wanted
to resolve disputes with Sunnis to keep them in the political process. "We will
work as we did in the past and continue to keep them with us and participate
together in the rule and serving the Iraqi people," he said. "If there are
problems, then there should be serious efforts to solve them."
His comments came in written answers given Thursday to AP in response to
questions sent to him the previous week. Al-Hakim is in Iran for cancer
Al-Hakim and aides to al-Maliki have said the reshuffle plan would involved
forming a coalition of the two main Shiite and two main Kurdish parties and the
Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party, which are in the current government. That could mean
shedding one or more of the other Sunni parties in the coalition and the Shiite
party of al-Sadr.
Al-Maliki said "the Iraq that we want is an Iraq for everyone and it is being
subjected to serious conspiracies. There are some who are exploiting national
causes and working on weakening it (Iraq)."