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Iraq's Sadr urges calm after U.S. raid in Baghdad

Written by: Staff

Baghdad, Mar 27: A senior aide to radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has appealed for calm after accusing US troops of killing more than 20 unarmed worshippers at a mosque in Baghdad.

''We are urging for calm, we are waiting for the government's response,'' said Hazim al-Araji last night.

Iraqi police and residents said the raid in the Shaab district of east Baghdad sparked fierce clashes with Mehdi Army militiamen loyal to Sadr, who has led two revolts against U.S.

occupation troops but has since joined politics.

The US military said Iraqi special forces killed 16 insurgents in northeastern Baghdad yesterday and detained 15 other people.

US military spokesmen said they could not say whether the statement referred to the same incident in which the Shi'ite leaders said 20 or more unarmed men were shot dead by American troops in a radical mosque in northeast Baghdad's Shaab district.

The US military said no mosques were entered or damaged and said US special forces troops were on hand only as advisers.

Iraqi police and residents said the raid in the Shaab district of east Baghdad sparked fierce clashes with militiamen of the Mehdi Army loyal to radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

Araji accused US troops of shooting dead more than 20 unarmed worshippers at the Mustapha mosque. The mosque's faithful follow Sadr but the aide denied they were Mehdi Army gunmen. ''We do not want to be dragged to a third war,'' he said.

A medical source at Yarmouk hospital said he saw 18 bodies of Iraqis killed in the operation.

Police sources said 20 Mehdi Army fighters were killed in the fighting, close to Sadr's stronghold in the Sadr City slum, and five vehicles belonging to the militia were burned.

Shi'ite sources said the incident could further delay the formation of a unity government more than three months after elections. ''This is not good, it will not help the political process,'' said a senior Shi'ite Alliance source said.


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