BAGHDAD, Oct 27 (Reuters) U S forces moved into part of Baghdad's sprawling slum district of Sadr City tday, hunting for a U S soldier of Iraqi descent who was kidnapped on Monday, a U S military spokesman said.
Witnesses and an official of the Mehdi Army, a militia loyal to Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, said there was a strong U S troop presence backed by air support in the northeast part of Sadr City.
The official said the U S troops had not taken any aggressive action.
U S troops rarely venture into the area, a stronghold of the Mehdi Army militia that Washington wants the government to disarm amid accusations it operates sectarian death squads.
Asked about the U S activity in Sadr City, U S Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Garver said: ''It's ongoing operations specifically related to the search for the missing soldier.'' U S forces were in the area where the soldier was thought to be, he said.
The move into Sadr City came a day after the prime minister said Iraq's most notorious death squad leader escaped a major U S-led raid in Sadr City.
Wednesday's ground and air assault targeted Abu Deraa, a feared warlord held responsible for a rash of brutal sectarian killings and kidnappings of Iraqi Sunnis.
The operation, carried out by Iraqi special forces with U S advisers and air support, killed 10 ''enemy fighters'', according to a U S military statement.
The U S military said during Wednesday's raid Iraqi forces also searched a mosque in connection with the hunt for the missing U S soldier, who left the safety of the fortified ''Green Zone'' on Monday to visit a relative.
The raid caused tensions with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, whose government relies on Sadr's support. Maliki said he was not informed in advance of the full scope of the mission.
U S forces have been out in force in various districts of the capital since Monday, conducting house-to-house searches and setting up checkpoints.
They have been on the outskirts of Sadr City for several days, though U S Major General William Caldwell declined to say on Thursday which group was thought responsible for the kidnapping of the soldier, a linguist of Iraqi descent.
REUTERS PDM BS1722