- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 12, 2007

BAGHDAD — U.S. troops raided a Shi’ite neighborhood of Baghdad today in a hunt for militiamen linked to Iran, sparking exchanges of fire and a mortar attack. Officials said 19 persons were killed, and residents said some of the casualties were caused by U.S. helicopter fire.

The U.S. military had no immediate comment on the violence in the eastern Amin district of the capital.

The violence began with a predawn 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 — many of them Shi’ites who fled to Baghdad from Baqouba, where U.S. forces have been waging a three-week-old offensive — 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 persons were killed and 20 wounded, a toll confirmed by officials from the three hospitals where the victims were taken. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.

An Iraqi photographer and a driver employed by Reuters news agency were killed today in eastern Baghdad, the London-based agency said. The hospital officials said the two Reuters staffers — identified as photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen, 22, and driver Saeed Chmagh, 40 — 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. air strike or a mortar attack had occurred. U.S. and Iraqi forces have been cracking down on Shi’ite militants even as they wage offensives in and around Baghdad aimed at uprooting Sunni insurgents and extremists from al Qaeda in Iraq. The campaign seeks to reduce violence in the capital to boost the government as it tries to push through political reforms.

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.

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