- The Washington Times - Friday, October 10, 2003

From combined dispatches

BAGHDAD — Guerrillas killed two U.S. soldiers and wounded four in an ambush in a Baghdad slum where a suicide car bombing of a police station had earlier claimed at least 10 lives, the U.S. Army said yesterday.

Residents of Baghdad’s impoverished Sadr City said two Iraqis died in gunbattles with U.S. troops, backed by helicopters, who scoured the predominantly Shi’ite Muslim neighborhood after the ambush Thursday night.

Thousands of mourners marched through the district yesterday holding two coffins aloft and shouting: “No, no America.”

The Americans said their troops were lured into an ambush, but the Shi’ites maintained that U.S. soldiers opened fire first when they approached radical cleric Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr’s headquarters.

The clash, which wounded at least seven Iraqis and two U.S. soldiers, drew an angry reaction from Iraq’s Shi’ites.

The bloodshed came just 12 hours after a mysterious car bombing killed 10 persons at a nearby police station in Sadr City, where Sheik al-Sadr has taken a stand against the U.S. military occupation and deployed his own armed force.

Sheik Abdel-Hadi al-Daraji, an al-Sadr aide, said the Americans approached the al-Sadr headquarters and opened fire first in the Thursday night attack.

The U.S. military said a 1st Armored Division squad riding in three Humvees was ambushed at 8 p.m. Thursday while on routine patrol in the slum. U.S. Army spokesman Lt. Col. George Krivo had no comment about the assertion that the U.S. soldiers had approached Sheik al-Sadr’s headquarters.

“A group of people, civilians, met with U.S. forces and said, ‘Please come in, we need to show you something important,’” Col. Krivo said.

When the soldiers left their vehicles and followed the Iraqis, they came under small-arms and rocket-propelled grenade fire, he said. Homemade bombs were also detonated.

An Army quick-reaction force helped extricate the patrol, Col. Krivo said. He would not go into detail about what happened next, but suggested the encounter lasted two hours and that he “would not characterize [it] as a raid.”

Security was tight during Friday prayers, with residents loyal to Sheik al-Sadr blocking streets leading to the main mosque. Guards were stationed on rooftops and around the 10,000 faithful who attended the sermon and prayers.

Afterward, there was a funeral procession for what were said to be two Iraqis killed in Thursday’s clash.

“America claims to be the pioneer of freedom and democracy, but it resembles, or indeed is, a terror organization,” Sheik al-Daraji told the congregation. “The Americans may have forgotten that the real power rests with God and not with the wretched America.”

Staff at Al-Chawader Hospital in Sadr City said one Iraqi was killed in the clash and at least seven were injured.

Sheik al-Sadr lives in the southern city of Najaf, but Sadr City, home to thousands of young, unemployed Shi’ites, is his main power base.

“We want peace, but the Americans came last night thinking this is Fallujah,” said Mahdi Abdel-Zahra, 32, referring to a city west of Baghdad where frequent clashes between Iraqis — mostly Sunnis — and Americans have occurred. “They are wrong. We’ve never hurt the Americans in Sadr City.”

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