Iraqi forces backed by U.S. helicopters swept through one of the oldest areas of Baghdad on Friday in house-to-house fighting that killed at least three Iraqis and wounded 11, police said.
U.S. helicopter gunships flew over the poor mostly Sunni-Arab Fadhil area to support the Iraqi ground forces, but did not open fire on the crowded neighborhoods of one-story homes, said police Lt. Ali Muhsin.
He said fighting in the narrow streets and alleys with suspected insurgents armed with rifles and machine guns killed one Iraqi soldier and two civilians, and that four Iraqi soldiers and seven citizens were wounded.
State-run Iraqiya TV said 43 suspected insurgents were taken into custody during searches of many homes, but it wasn’t immediately known if any militants had been killed or wounded.
The U.S. military confirmed the raid, saying it was aimed at an insurgent “safe haven” and being conducted with U.S. support. Fadhil is about one mile from the Green Zone, the heavily fortified area on the Tigris River where Iraq’s parliament, U.S. soldiers and American and British embassies are located.
In addition, U.S. forces conducted separate raids in other areas of central Iraq, killing two insurgents and wounding an Iraqi woman the militants were using as a “human shield,” the U.S. command said.
Scattered sectarian violence elsewhere killed 12 other people, while gunmen kidnapped the Sunni head of one of Iraq’s leading soccer clubs, officials said.
The U.S. military also said an American soldier was killed Thursday during combat in Baghdad. At least 2,886 American service members have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
Meanwhile, there was no sign that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was having any luck stopping a widening revolt within his divided government.
Two senior Sunni politicians have joined prominent Shiite lawmakers and Cabinet members in criticizing his policies. Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi said he wanted to see al-Maliki’s government gone and another “understanding” for a new coalition put in place with guarantees that ensure collective decision-making.
“There is a clear deterioration in security and everything is moving in the wrong direction,” the Sunni leader told the AP. “This situation must be redressed as soon as possible. If it continues, the country will plunge into civil war.”
Deputy Prime Minister Salam Zikam Ali al-Zubaie, also a Sunni, argued that the Shiite prime minister’s government failed to curb the spread of sectarian politics.
The boycott by 30 lawmakers and five Cabinet ministers loyal to anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr was to protest al-Maliki’s meeting with President Bush in Jordan on Thursday. The Sadrists said the meeting amounted to an affront to the Iraqi people.
Appeal for al-Sadr block to end boycott
Al-Maliki appealed to the Sadrists to end their boycott and admonished them for an action that he said violated the commitment expected from partners in his 6-month-old coalition government.
In an interview, Falah Hassan Shanshal, a Shiite lawmaker with the Sadrist group, said: “There is nothing new regarding our stance.”
He criticized al-Maliki for winning a unanimous vote by the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday to extend for one year the mandate of the 160,000-strong multinational force in Iraq. At the time, the prime minister said a top priority of his government is to assume full responsibility for security and stability throughout Iraq, but that it needs more time.
Shanshal said the boycotters will await the reaction to the U.N. vote by Iraq’s 275-seat Parliament when it meets next on Tuesday.
Legislator Baha al-Araji told the AP that the boycotters hoped to meet with al-Maliki on Friday or Saturday to discuss their demands.
The U.S. military raids targeting al-Qaida in Iraq insurgents occurred early Friday in Baghdad, the town of Youssifiyah to the south, and two locations to the north: near Taji, the U.S. Air Force base, and the town of Tarmiyah.
'Human shield' in stable condition
In the Taji area, coalition forces fought with insurgents, killing one and “wounding a female local national who was being used as human shield by the terrorist,” the U.S. command said in a statement. Her name and age were not given.
She was hospitalized in stable condition, the U.S. military said. American soldiers also detained 14 suspected insurgents during the raid, including “a known foreign fighter facilitator” who was not identified.
“Terrorists continue to deliberately place innocent Iraqi women and children in danger by their actions and presence,” the statement said.
It was the third time in less than a week that Iraqi women have been killed or wounded during U.S. raids.
On Wednesday, two women died when U.S. forces backed by aircraft killed eight al-Qaida in Iraq insurgents during a raid near Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad.
The day before, American soldiers fought with suspected insurgents in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, killing six Iraqis: one man and five girls, ages 7 months, 12, 14, 15 and 17, according to the U.S. command. The military quoted residents as saying the building “was a known anti-Iraqi force safe house.”
In Friday’s U.S. raid in Youssifiyah, 12 miles south of Baghdad, forces searching for “a foreign fighter safe house” shot and killed an armed insurgent and found and destroyed a weapons cache, the military said.
In the capital, American soldiers detained the leader of a cell of insurgents that makes car bombs and eight suspected militants, the command said.
Four more detainees held in raids
Two other raids netted four more detainees during operations around Tarmiyah, 30 miles north of Baghdad, the military said.
Sectarian violence continued in the capital, despite a weekly four-hour vehicle ban aimed at preventing suicide car bombers during Friday prayers.
Men armed with guns and rocket-propelled grenades drove into a mostly Sunni Arab section of west Baghdad before dawn and opened fire on a small mosque, a police officer said. The grenades set fire to holy books inside the one-story al-Quds Sunni mosque, which was empty at the time. Neighbors opened fire on the attackers, forcing them to flee, the officer said. No casualties were reported.
In Sadiyah, a primarily Sunni area of southwestern Baghdad, a Shiite man was killed and six of his relatives were wounded when a bomb explosion drew them outside their house at 6:30 a.m., and a second bomb then exploded right near them, another police officer said. Both officers spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear for their own security.
Later, bomb attacks in three different areas of the capital killed six Iraqis and wounded 39, police said.
North of Baghdad, mortar rounds killed three civilians and wounded 14 in a village near Muqdadiya, and a suicide bomber targeting an American convoy killed two civilians and wounded three, in the city of Kirkuk, police said.
A detainee at Camp Cropper died Thursday, apparently of natural causes, the U.S. military said. In Iraq, the U.S. Army oversees about 13,000 prisoners at Camp Cropper near Baghdad airport, Camp Bucca in the southern desert, and Fort Suse in the Kurdish north.