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Pentagon says Iraq incident didn't involve mosque

Written by: Staff
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WASHINGTON, Mar 27 (Reuters) The Pentagon today said no mosques were entered or damaged in an operation involving Iraqi and US forces that killed more than a dozen people and prompted Iraq's ruling Shi'ite alliance to urge American forces to return control of security to Iraqis.

Asked about Sunday's operation, Bryan Whitman, a senior Pentagon spokesman, reiterated a version of events put out by the US military command in Iraq.

Whitman said that ''my understanding is that there were no mosques that were entered into or damaged as part of this operation.'' He said that ''there were US special forces in support of the operation,'' but declined to state the role played by American troops.

Government-run Iraqi media have portrayed the operation as a US raid on unarmed worshipers in a holy place. Iraq's security minister, Abd al-Karim al-Enzi, said 37 people were killed in the attack.

''An Iraqi special operations force conducted a raid in one of the neighbourhoods in northeast Baghdad to disrupt a terrorist cell that had been responsible for not only onducting attacks on Iraqi security forces and coalition forces but also in kidnapping Iraqi civilians in the local area,'' Whitman said.

''That particular Iraqi special operations force came under fire as they were conducting this operation, and in the process the Iraqi special operations forces killed 16 insurgents. They also, in securing the objective there, detained a number of other individuals, approximately 15, is what I've heard,'' Whitman added.

Whitman said that as part of the raid, a cache of weapons, roadside bomb-making materials and ammunition was discovered.

The building was not a traditional mosque but a former Baath party compound used by Shi'ites for prayers and other religious events and was known locally as the Mustafa mosque.

''This was an Iraqi planned and led operation and US forces were only in an advisory capacity,'' said a State Department official, who asked not to be named because he was not authorised to address the issue until the administration formed its official response to the charges.

The incident underscored the need for Iraqis to take a non-sectarian approach to security, he said.

REUTERS SI RS2339

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