- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 26, 2006

BAGHDAD — Police and a top aide to radical Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said yesterday that 18 persons were killed in a clash involving U.S. and Iraqi army forces at a mosque in eastern Baghdad. The U.S. military said it had no information on the reported violence.

The announcement was made hours after a mortar round slammed to earth near Sheik al-Sadr’s home in Najaf. The popular anti-American cleric was at home but was not hurt, an aide said.

Iraqi authorities also said 30 corpses, most of them beheaded, were found last night near a village north of the capital, in the latest wave of sectarian killings engulfing Iraq.

In the capital, U.S. troops raided an Interior Ministry building and briefly detained about 10 Iraqi policemen after discovering 17 Sudanese prisoners in the facility, Iraqi authorities said.

The short-lived raid was reminiscent of a U.S. raid in November that found detainees apparently tortured, but in this case, the Americans quickly determined the Sudanese were being legitimately held and had not been abused, said Maj. Gen. Ali Ghalib, a deputy interior minister. The U.S. military command here had no comment on the report.

Police said the 30 bodies were found north of Baghdad when police and soldiers checked a report of killings in the village of Mullah Eid, a former stronghold of ex-President Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party about 35 miles north of Baghdad.

Authorities gave no information on the identities of the victims or on who may have been responsible. The dead were transferred to a morgue in Baghdad, police 1st Lt. Thaer Mahmoud said.

Radical Shi’ites, meanwhile, said 18 persons were killed by U.S. and Iraqi forces at a mosque in eastern Baghdad. Police said 22 died, while the American military said 16 insurgents were killed by Iraqi special forces with U.S. troops on the scene as backup.

“No mosques were entered or damaged during this operation,” the military said at least five hours after the clash.

“As elements of the 1st Iraqi Special Operations Forces Brigade entered their objective, they came under fire. In the ensuing exchange of fire, [Iraqi troops] killed 16 insurgents. As they secured their objective, they detained 15 more individuals,” the military said.

A child and at least one guard were wounded in the mortar attack earlier yesterday that hit about 165 feet from Sheik al-Sadr’s home, according to police and al-Sadr aide Sheik Sahib al-Amiri.

Iraqi troops sealed the area, and the cleric’s Mahdi Army militia surrounded the home after the attack, Sheik al-Amiri said. Sheik al-Sadr lives near the Imam Ali shrine in Najaf, about 90 miles south of Baghdad.

Shortly after the attack, the cleric issued a statement calling for calm.

“I call upon all brothers to stay calm, and I call upon the Iraqi army to protect the pilgrims as the Nawasib (militants) are aiming to attack Shi’ites every day,” he said.

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