BAGHDAD, Iraq — U.S. forces raided the homes of followers of radical anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr late Monday, and U.S. jets were firing rockets on the northwest Baghdad neighborhood, residents said. Police put the death toll at five, though an aide to the cleric said nine people were killed.
The U.S. military said it had no immediate comment.
Jalil al-Nouri, a senior al-Sadr aide, told The Associated Press by telephone that “occupation forces are currently carrying out raids against al-Sadr’s followers in the neighborhood of Shula.”
Al-Nouri said nine people were killed and others were wounded. Police Lt. Mohammed Kheyoun said five were killed and 15 wounded.
Al-Nouri spoke of gun battles between residents and U.S. troops using tanks and armored personnel carriers. He said U.S. Apache helicopters as well as warplanes were involved in the attacks on Shula.
Kheyoun said he saw U.S. helicopters over the area.
The drone of propeller-driven planes could be heard across Baghdad, and flashes could be seen in the air over the north of the city.
20 killed in Baghdad bomb attack
Earlier Monday, a bomb tore through in a minibus in a largely Shiite Baghdad neighborhood, killing at least 20 people and wounding 18. Gunmen killed at least 10 people, including a television cameraman, a city councilman and a Sunni sheik, in executions and assassinations around Iraq.
And Gen. John Abizaid, commander of all U.S. forces in the Middle East, met with the country’s Shiite prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, to “reaffirm President Bush’s commitment” to success in Iraq, the government said. The two discussed the effects Iran and Syria were having on Iraq’s security, according to the Iraqi government statement.
Abizaid was the third top U.S. official to visit Iraq since Oct. 30, and the meeting comes a day after al-Maliki promised to shake up his government in a bid to end the sectarian slaughter. Amid the violence, two U.S. soldiers were killed Sunday in a roadside bombing in Salahuddin Province north of Baghdad, the military reported Monday.
In Washington, the blue-ribbon bipartisan commission trying to devise a new course for the war in Iraq met with President Bush and other White House officials. The Iraq Study Group plans to announce its recommendations to Bush and Congress by the end of the year.
The bomb in the northeast Baghdad Shaab neighborhood was planted on the bus and detonated shortly after noon at a major intersection, police said. Sunni insurgents have frequently targeted Shiite bus passengers in the ongoing sectarian reprisal killings that are tearing at the fabric of Iraqi society.
Hours earlier, Mohammed al-Ban, a cameraman for Iraq’s independent Al-Sharqiyah satellite television broadcaster, was shot to death leaving his home in the northern city of Mosul. His wife was wounded, police said.
Al-Ban is the second journalist for the channel to be killed in recent weeks. Anchorwoman Leqaa Abdul Razzaq was fatally shot late last month as she was traveling in south Baghdad’s lawless Dora district.
At least 89 journalists have been killed in Iraq since hostilities began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count based on statistics kept by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.
Another 35 media employees, including drivers, interpreters and guards, have been killed, all but one of them Iraqi.
Diyala official slain
In Diyala, the increasingly volatile province northeast of Baghdad, council member Assim Mahmoud Abbas was killed in a drive-by shooting, council head Ibrahim Bajilan said. A fellow council member was wounded in the attack in Waziriyah, northeast of the capital.
Sunni Sheik Namis Karim was gunned down Monday morning as he was heading to a mosque in Baqouba, police said.
Also in Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, police reported finding the bodies of two women who had been shot to death. A civilian was reported gunned down as well.
Police in western Baghdad found four bodies that had been shot. The victims were handcuffed and their bodies showed signs of torture, police 1st Lt. Maithem Adbel-Razzaq said.
On Sunday the Iraqi army reported discovering 50 bodies dumped behind a provincial electrical company near Baqouba, and an army official in Diyala said local forces and U.S. troops were heading to the area to recover the corpses. Gunmen had prevented their immediate retrieval. The army official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to provide details of the operation.
Authorities said 159 people were killed or found dead nationwide Sunday, including 35 who died when two suicide bombers detonated explosives belts among police recruits outside a west Baghdad security forces headquarters.
Turkey on Monday said that a Turkish man who had been abducted by a militant group was killed. Turkish officials had long suspected that Yildirim Tek, who was taken hostage in Iraq in July, was killed by his kidnappers.
A Foreign Ministry statement said Tek’s family identified a photo of a body found a month and a half ago near a road leading to Baghdad’s airport as that of the missing Turk.
Al-Maliki pledges to change Cabinet
Al-Maliki blamed Sunni Muslims for the sectarian conflict on Sunday and promised to reshuffle his Cabinet after rebuking lawmakers for disloyalty.
The country’s Sunni defense minister challenged al-Maliki’s contention that the U.S. military should quickly pull back into bases and let the Iraqi army take control of security countrywide.
Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani was at the top of the list to lose his post in the coming Cabinet shake-up, key lawmakers from al-Maliki’s Islamic Dawa Party said, because police and security forces were failing to rein in the unbridled sectarian killing verging on civil war in Baghdad and the center of the country.
Al-Bolani, a Shiite who was chosen in June and a month after al-Maliki’s government was formed, is an independent. The United States demanded that the defense and interior posts be held by men without ties to the Shiite political parties that control militia forces.
Al-Maliki is under pressure both from his people and the United States to curb violence, with Washington hammering on him to disband Shiite militias believed responsible, through their death squads, for much of the killing.
‘We are working hard’
The interior minister controls police and other security forces which already are infiltrated by the Badr Brigade and the Mahdi Army, the armed wing of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s political movement. Al-Maliki is dependent on both SCIRI and the Sadrists for his hold on power.
Defense Minister Abdul-Qadir al-Obaidi rejected calls by al-Maliki for the U.S. military to speed transfer of security operations throughout the country to the Iraqi army, saying his men still were too poorly equipped and trained to do the job.
“We are working hard to create a real army and we ask our government not to try to move too quickly because of the political pressure it feels,” al-Obaidi said.
Al-Maliki wants the Americans confined to bases for him to call on in emergencies, but he boldly predicted his army could crush violence within six months if left alone to do the work.
The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, last month said it would take 12 to 18 months before Iraq’s army was ready to take control of the country with some U.S. backup.
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