AFP: US and Iraqi forces backed by helicopters killed 26 militants suspected of links to “Iranian terror networks” in raids in the Baghdad Shiite district of Sadr City on Saturday, the US military said. by Joseph Krauss
BAGHDAD, June 30, 2007 (AFP) – US and Iraqi forces backed by helicopters killed 26 militants suspected of links to “Iranian terror networks” in raids in the Baghdad Shiite district of Sadr City on Saturday, the US military said.
“Coalition forces conducted two separate raids targeting suspected secret cell terrorists during pre-dawn hours Saturday in Sadr City,” the military said, adding that another 17 suspects were detained in the operations.
“It is believed that the suspected terrorists have close ties to Iranian terror networks and are responsible for facilitating the flow of lethal aid into Iraq,” it added.
Residents woke before dawn to the sound of rockets slamming into buildings and machine gun fire echoing off the concrete apartment blocks of the impoverished neighbourhood, an AFP correspondent said.
Dozens of gunmen ran through the streets, firing pistols and machine guns at the US helicopters circling overhead, which responded with missiles. Several cars and homes were destroyed.
The US military confirmed that its forces came under heavy attack, with militants firing several rocket-propelled grenades. No US or Iraqi troops were wounded in the clashes.
Saturday’s raids are the latest in a series of operations targeting smuggling rings that US commanders say transport weapons and from Iran, including sophisticated shaped explosives capable of penetrating US armour.
On Friday, a top US commander said Iran was also behind the increasing mortar bombardments of the heavily fortified Green Zone, which houses the Iraqi parliament and the US and British embassies.
“Much of the indirect fire that we receive, especially that which is pointed at the International Zone, the Green Zone, is in fact Iranian,” Major General Joseph Fil told reporters at a Pentagon teleconference.
“We check the tail fins of the mortars, when we find the rockets — and frequently we’re able to find them preemptively, before they actually launch,” he said, adding that most originated in and around Sadr City.
Several mortar rounds soared over central Baghdad in the direction of the Green Zone on Friday, and shortly afterwards a US embassy official said there had been explosions inside the zone, without giving further details.
Tehran has always denied the charges, insisting it supports the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and blaming Iraq’s myriad conflicts on the US occupation.
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Saturday dismissed the US allegations, according to Iranian state television.
“American accusations against Iran about Iraq… are unfounded,” Khamenei said. “There is no doubt about the Iranian government’s and people’s hatred towards the US administration but America’s problem stems from elsewhere.”
Maliki, who maintains cordial relations with Iran and who owes much of his political power to radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, the Shiite slum’s political boss, questioned the raids in a statement from his office.
“The government targets all outlaws from whatever political, ethnic, or sectarian faction and anyone that launches mortars at the institutions of the state and kills innocents,” Maliki said.
But “it refuses to bring harm to civilians and their property in the guise of fighting terrorists or militias and so it will demand a clarification from coalition forces on what happened in Sadr City this morning.”
In May, the US ambassador to Iraq and his Iranian counterpart met in Baghdad for landmark talks aimed at improving security in the war-torn country, but US commanders charge that Iran has continued to foment unrest.
“There is absolutely evidence of Iranian operatives moving weapons, training fighters, providing resources, helping to plan operations,” US military spokesman Brigadier General Kevin Bergner told a press conference last week.
At the same press conference, the US embassy’s second highest ranking diplomat said there were no future talks on the horizon.
“We do not yet have another meeting scheduled for that dialogue with Iraq and Iran,” charge d’affaires Daniel Speckhard said.
“While the Iranian side had stated some common desires and goals for Iraq in terms of stability, peace, democracy and so forth… their actions were out of line with their stated goals and objectives,” he added.