US soldier, 14 Shi'ite gunmen killed in Baghdad clashes

US helicopter allegedly fires missile at target 50 meters from hospital, wounding some 28 people and damaging at least seven ambulances.

Iraq rubble 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Iraq rubble 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
US soldiers killed 14 suspected Shi'ite militants and an American soldier was killed in a roadside bomb attack in the latest clashes in Baghdad, the military said Saturday. More than 100 people were also wounded in clashes Friday and Saturday in Baghdad's embattled Sadr City district, Iraqi health officials said. A US helicopter on Saturday allegedly fired a missile at a target some 50 meters away from the general hospital in Sadr City, wounding about 28 people and damaging at least seven ambulances, hospital officials said. The US military had no immediate comment about the incident but said they "only engage hostile threats and take every precaution to protect innocent civilians." Shi'ite extremists are known to have operated in a building next to the hospital, local reporters said. The attack left a crater just outside the concrete barriers of the hospital and badly damaged at least one ambulance along with some other vehicles, AP Television News footage showed. The explosion apparently also demolished a brick building. US and Iraqi forces have been locked in street battles with Shi'ite militias since late March in Sadr City, a slum of 2.5 million people and the base of anti-American Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. The US military said 10 militants were killed in the fighting Friday, including a sniper and a triggerman accused of planting armor-piercing roadside bombs in Sadr City and the adjacent Ubaydi area. US forces used aircraft and an Abrams battle tank in the attack. The soldiers killed four militants early Saturday elsewhere in Baghdad, the military added. Several vehicles and buildings were destroyed in the clashes, police said. The American military also announced Saturday that a US soldier died of wounds sustained in a roadside bomb that struck the soldier's vehicle during a combat patrol in eastern Baghdad on Friday. The announcement comes a day after the military said another roadside bomb attack in eastern Baghdad killed a US soldier. As clashes escalate in Sadr City, Shi'ite clerics have offered sharply different visions in the showdown between government forces and Shi'ite militias. One cleric predicted Friday that armed groups will be crushed in Baghdad, and another called for Iraq's prime minister to be prosecuted for crimes against his people. The contrasting views showed the complexities and risks in the 5-week-old crackdown by the Iraqi government and US forces on Shi'ite militia factions. The clashes have brought deep rifts among Iraq's Shi'ite majority and have pulled US troops into difficult urban combat. But Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shi'ite, shows no indication of easing the pressure on militia groups, including the powerful Mahdi Army led by al-Sadr. Iraqi and US forces are pressing deeper into Sadr City, and al-Maliki has been seeking to increase leverage on Iran, which is accused of training and arming some Shi'ite militia groups. Iran denies the claims. A five-member Iraqi delegation was sent to Tehran this week to try to choke off suspected Iranian aid to militiamen. Meanwhile, two civilians were killed and seven others wounded in Baghdad's central Salihiyah district Friday evening after a mortar round apparently fired by Shi'ite extremists toward the US-protected Green Zone fell short. Shi'ite militiamen have used Sadr City as a base to fire barrages of missiles and mortar rounds at the Green Zone, which houses the US Embassy and much of the Iraqi government.