US ground forces and attack helicopters on Sunday inflicted one of the highest single-operation death tolls since the end of active combat, killing an estimated 49 militants during a dawn raid to capture an Iranian-linked militia chief in Baghdad's Sadr City Shiite enclave.
Iraqi officials, who often overstate casualties, reported only 13 deaths, including women and children. The US military said it was not aware of any civilian casualties, and the discrepancy in the death tolls and accounts of what happened could not be reconciled. American commanders reported no US casualties.
The punishing attack grew out of a dawn raid into the dangerous Shiite slum to capture an alleged rogue militia chief, one of thousands of fighters who have broken with Muqtada al-Sadr's mainstream Mahdi Army. The Shiite cleric has ordered gunmen loyal to him to put down their arms, but thousands of members dissatisfied with being taken out of the fight have formed a loose confederation that is armed and trained by Iran.
The US operation was the latest in a series that have produced significant death tolls, including civilians, as American forces increasingly take the fight to Sunni insurgents, al-Qaida militants and Shiite militiamen. The intensity and frequency of American attacks and raids have grown exponentially since the arrival of the last of 30,000 additional soldiers on June 15.