- The Washington Times - Friday, July 7, 2006

BAGHDAD — Iraqi troops backed by U.S. jets raided a Shi’ite stronghold in the capital yesterday, killing and wounding dozens of people in a crackdown on militias blamed for much of Iraq’s worsening sectarian violence.

At least 17 others died in a wave of insurgent bombings and mortar attacks against mostly Sunni mosques in the Baghdad area and northern Iraq. A Sunni cleric was kidnapped in the capital, a Sunni official said.

The raid began before dawn in Sadr City, a Shi’ite district of east Baghdad, as Iraqi troops backed by American forces swooped down on a building where an undisclosed “insurgent leader” was holed up, a U.S. statement said.

Gunmen opened fire from the roof with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades, triggering a firefight in which an estimated 30 to 40 “enemy fighters” were killed, the U.S. military said. There were no American or Iraqi government casualties, the statement added.

The insurgent leader was captured, U.S. spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said. He would not identify the man, but said he and his followers have kidnapped, tortured and murdered Iraqi citizens and had tried to smuggle weapons from Syria.

Residents of Sadr City said they thought the raid targeted Abu Diraa, a commander of a breakaway faction of the Mahdi militia, led by radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Several residents insisted Abu Diraa had escaped but offered no proof.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shi’ite, has promised to disband sectarian militias, blamed for the tit-for-tat killings that have heightened tensions between Shi’ites and Sunnis and raised fears of civil war.

But the raid enraged many of the 2.5 million Shi’ites in Sadr City as rumors spread through the crowded slum that most of the dead were civilians killed as they slept on their rooftops. Many Iraqis sleep on roofs during the sweltering summer months because the electricity crisis means they don’t have fans and air conditioning.

Lt. Kadim Abbas Hamza of the Sadr City police said nine persons, including a woman, were killed and 14 were wounded. He also said eight persons were arrested. A hospital official said seven persons were killed and 34 wounded.

Gen. Caldwell said the operation was planned and directed by Iraqis with U.S. troops in a supporting role. However, an Iraqi army officer said the Americans gave them a list of people to be arrested in advance of the raid.

In another sign of sectarian tensions, a series of bombs and a mortar blast struck four Sunni mosques in the Baghdad area and a Shi’ite mosque in the northern city of Sinjar, killing a total of 17 persons and wounding more than 50, police said.

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