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US raids kill five in Baghdad's Sadr City

Written by: Staff
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BAGHDAD, Oct 25 (Reuters) Overnight US raids in the Shi'ite district of Sadr City in Baghdad killed five and wounded at least six people, witnesses and morgue officials said today.

The US military had no immediate comment on the activity in the sprawling Sadr City, a stronghold of the Mehdi Army militia loyal to firebrand cleric Moqtada al Sadr.

Witnesses said aircraft launched strikes in the area. It was not immediately clear if there was any connection to the hunt for a US soldier who went missing on Monday.

''We are putting all our assets into finding the soldier,'' said Lt. Col. Steve Stoder. ''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.

A security cordon around the central Karrada district, where troops have been searching house-to-house since the US soldier disappeared on Monday night, had been lifted today but Stoder said the search remained intense.

One witness in Sadr City said US and Iraqi troops had conducted ground raids and air strikes on a Sadr office. US and Iraqi troops had set up checkpoints around the area today and were restricting people from leaving the area.

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.

Sunni leaders and US officials blame the Mehdi Army for sectarian killings and kidnappings that have pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war. Washington has demanded it be disarmed and the US ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad said on Tuesday it had to be brought under control.

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 SAM VV1317

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