/ 6 April 2008

Clashes in Baghdad Shi’ite bastion kill 20

Clashes between militiamen and United States forces in the Iraqi capital’s Shi’ite bastion of Sadr City killed at least 20 people and wounded 52 others on Sunday, Iraqi security and medical officials said.

Officials from Iraq’s security and defence ministries said women and children were among the dead and wounded.

Medical officials said 20 bodies were transferred to hospitals, where more than 50 people were also brought for treatment.

The US military said its forces had carried out an air strike in Sadr City, Baghdad stronghold of the powerful Mehdi Army militia of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, at about 8am local time.

The air strike killed “nine criminals in Sadr City”, the military said without providing details.

An Agence France-Presse photographer on the scene said a US helicopter fired two missiles into Sadr City at about 11am but the American military did not immediately confirm a second air strike.

Iraqi security officials had earlier said clashes erupted between Shi’ite fighters and US forces in Sadr City.

The firefights started at around midnight and continued sporadically on Sunday, defence and interior ministry officials said.

The clashes come days before a protest on April 9 in Sadr City called by the cleric against the presence of US forces in Iraq, coinciding with the April 9 fifth anniversary of the toppling of dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Sadr’s office says it expects at least one million people to turn out for the protest.

The Mehdi Army fighters have since March 25 being battling Iraqi and US forces in Sadr City and in the southern city of Basra after Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki ordered a crackdown on “lawless” Shi’ite militiamen.

The fighting, which raged until Sunday last week when Sadr called his fighters off the streets, killed more than 700 people. Since Sadr’s order, clashes have been sporadic and centred on Sadr City. — AFP