BAGHDAD — Iraqi forces backed by American soldiers raided one of the country’s most important Sunni mosques as worshippers were leaving after Friday prayers — part of a crackdown on militant clerics opposed to the U.S.-led attack on Fallujah. Witnesses said at least three persons were killed and 40 arrested.
Congregants at the Abu Hanifa mosque said they heard explosions inside the building, apparently from stun grenades. Later, a reporter saw a computer and books, including a Koran, scattered on the floor of the imam’s office near overturned furniture. U.S. soldiers were seen inside the mosque compound.
Terrorists said to be reeling from the loss of their base in Fallujah struck back yesterday with car bombings and by firing rockets or mortars at the green zone, the leafy Baghdad enclave that houses the headquarters of the Iraqi and U.S. leadership here. Six persons were killed in one car bombing in Baghdad, police said.
In the northern city of Mosul, where militants started an uprising last week, Iraqi forces backed by American troops raided a hospital purportedly used by insurgents, detaining three persons, U.S. officials said.
The overnight raid in Mosul followed an operation late Thursday in which Iraqi military and police units killed 15 insurgents and captured 10, according to Deputy Gov. Khasro Gouran. A car-bomb attack yesterday on a U.S. patrol in Mosul injured one American soldier, the U.S. military said.
In Baghdad, American troops were seen securing the perimeter of the mosque, located in the Azamiyah district, and sealing it off before Iraqi police entered. At least 10 U.S. armored vehicles were parked at the mosque, along with two vehicles carrying about 40 Iraqi national guardsmen, witnesses said.
Five persons were wounded, according to members of the congregation. The U.S. military referred questions on the raid to the Iraqi government, which declined comment.
The mosque, built around the tomb of the founder of the Hanafi school of Islamic jurisprudence, has stood for 1,250 years. When Hulagu, a grandson of Genghis Khan, sacked Baghdad in 1258, he used the mosque to stable his horses, but otherwise it has escaped indignities from the many forces that have invaded Baghdad. It is the most important Sunni mosque in Baghdad, and a site of pilgrimage for Muslims worldwide.
American troops have raided the mosque repeatedly since the fall of Baghdad in April 2003.
U.S. troops also raided a Sunni mosque in Qaim, near the Syrian border, a cleric said yesterday.
U.S. and Iraqi authorities are concerned about a public backlash against the Fallujah offensive by the minority Sunni community, especially as word spreads of the devastation there.
The Iraqi government has warned that Islamic clerics who incite violence will be considered as “participating in terrorism.” Some already have been arrested, including members of the Sunni clerical Association of Muslim Scholars.
Few Shi’ite clerics have condemned the Fallujah operation, except for followers of Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr, whose militia battled American troops in two major campaigns this year. Yesterday, U.S. troops arrested an al-Sadr representative near the holy city of Karbala — the second arrest of his aides in two days, Sheik al-Sadr’s office said. Both had spoken out against the Fallujah attack.
During the Fallujah offensive a Marine was recorded on video fatally shooting a wounded and apparently unarmed man in a mosque. The death is among those under investigation by the U.S. military.
As part of the inquiry, the bodies of four suspected Iraqi insurgents arrived at Dover Air Force Base, Del., Thursday night for autopsies, a U.S. defense official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.