Iraqi raid, U S air strike kill 5 in Sadr City
BAGHDAD, Oct 25 (Reuters) Iraqi special forces backed by U S air strikes killed five people and wounded at least six in a Shi'ite district of Baghdad, witnesses said, in a raid the U S military said was targeted at a death squad commander.
The overnight raid was launched in the sprawling Sadr City, a stronghold of the Mehdi Army militia loyal to firebrand Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
''Special Iraqi Army forces, supported by Coalition advisers, conducted a raid authorized by the government of Iraq ... in Sadr City, Baghdad to capture a top illegal armed group commander directing widespread death-squad activity throughout eastern Baghdad,'' the U S military said in a statement.
It said the Iraqi forces came under fire and called in U S air support.
The raid did not appear to have any connection to the hunt for a U S soldier who went missing on Monday.
The Iraqi Interior Ministry said around 20 were wounded in the raids which also damaged five houses. They said U S forces were still searching houses and had set a security cordon.
Sunni leaders and U S officials blame the Mehdi Army for sectarian killings and kidnappings that have pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war. U S ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad said Wednesday it had to be brought under control.
A Reuters television cameraman filmed five bodies in a morgue and six people wounded, including one elderly woman, in hospital. A witness told Reuters two members of the Mehdi Army were among the dead.
Angry relatives and the wounded blamed both U S forces and Maliki's government. ''Where is Maliki? Where is his freedom?'' said one man lying on a stretcher in the hospital.
One witness in Sadr City said U S and Iraqi troops had conducted ground raids and air strikes on a Sadr office. U S and Iraqi troops had set up checkpoints around the area today and were restricting people from leaving the area.
A security cordon around the central Karrada district, where troops have searched house-to-house since the U.S. soldier disappeared on Monday night, had been lifted today but Lieutenant Colonel Steve Stoder said the search continued.
''We are putting all our assets into finding the soldier,'' he said. ''We haven't done any air strikes (in the hunt for the soldier),'' he added, declining to say which areas of the city the search was focused on.
The search for the missing soldier revived memories of the kidnapping in June of two U S soldiers near Yusufiya, an al Qaeda stronghold south of Baghdad, in an ambush. Their bodies were later found badly mutilated.
An American of Iraqi descent, the missing soldier was last seen on Monday afternoon in the Green Zone, in uniform. Stoder declined to say whether his superiors were aware of his plan to visit a relative. ''He was kidnapped outside the International Zone.
Everything else is under investigation,'' he said.
REUTERS BDP BS1451