US-led forces kill 32 suspected militants in Iraq

Sadr City raid targets fighters who smuggle arms from Iran and facilitate travel of Iraqi militants for training.

US helicopter iraq 298.8 (photo credit: AP)
US helicopter iraq 298.8
(photo credit: AP)
US-led forces swooped into the Shiite militia stronghold of Sadr City on Wednesday, killing 32 suspected militants in fighting and an air strike. Iraqi police and witnesses said nine civilians were killed in the attack. The military statement detailing the raid said it targeted fighters who smuggle arms from Iran and facilitate the travel of Iraqi militants to Iran for training. The military said 12 suspects also were detained in the raid on breakaway factions of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. "The individuals detained and the terrorists killed during the raid are believed to be members of a cell of a special groups terrorist network known for facilitating the transport of weapons and explosively formed penetrators, or EFPs, from Iran to Iraq, as well as bringing militants from Iraq into Iran for terrorist training," the military said. The statement said the main suspect targeted in the raid was a liaison between Iraqi fighters and Iran's elite Quds Force, which is accused of arming and training the militants. Teheran has denied allegations that it is supporting the violence in Iraq. "Coalition Forces continue to gain momentum against the illicit movement of lethal materials from Iran," military spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Garver said. The military account of the raid said US and Iraqi ground forces came under sporadic small-arms fire as they targeted a group of buildings in Sadr City, the sprawling Shiite district in eastern Baghdad. The raiders killed two armed men believed to be lookouts, then detained 12 rogue militia fighters, the military said. Attack helicopters and warplanes then struck after spotting a vehicle and a large group of armed men on foot who were trying to attack the ground forces. An estimated 30 militants were killed in the air attack, according to the statement. The military statement was issued after Iraqi police and witnesses in Sadr City said a bombardment by US helicopters and armored vehicles killed nine civilians, including two women, and wounded six others. The police officer and witnesses, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared reprisals, also said 12 people were detained. Men and young boys wept over wooden coffins covered with blankets before they were placed atop vehicles, while women shrouded in black blamed the Americans for attacking civilians. It was the latest in a series of strikes against rogue Shiite militias, which US commanders have said are responsible for an increasing number of attacks against American forces. Al-Sadr agreed to pull his Mahdi Army fighters off the streets as a US-Iraqi security crackdown began on Feb. 14 in Baghdad and surrounding regions, but disaffected members of the Mahdi Army have broken away from al-Sadr control. Dissident members of the militia told the AP that they went to Iran for training and armaments and returned to Iraq to join the fight against US and Iraqi troops.