/ 28 April 2008

US army says it killed 22 fighters in Baghdad

The United States military said on Monday it had killed 22 fighters who attacked an Iraqi checkpoint in north-eastern Baghdad under cover of an overnight dust storm.

The attack was one of the biggest in weeks, and indicated some fighters had defied an order by anti-American Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to observe a ceasefire.

It took place late on Sunday about the same time as a barrage of rockets struck the Green Zone, the fortified government and diplomatic compound in the centre of the capital.

The dust storms grounded US helicopters, the main weapon American troops use to hunt rocket crews.

The military said in a statement its soldiers used tanks to return fire on attackers who struck a joint US-Iraqi checkpoint in north-east Baghdad.

The US forces killed ”22 criminals”, it said, adding: ”The criminals’ small-arms fire was ineffective and there were no US or [Iraqi security force] casualties in the attack.”

It did not give the precise location of the battle in north-east Baghdad, but described a unit that has been deployed near Sadr City, the crowded slum of two million people where al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army fighters hold sway.

The attack and missile strikes appeared to defy a renewed call for a ceasefire by al-Sadr, who had praised his followers on Friday for refraining from attacks and told them they should not fight Iraqi troops.

Sirens continued to wail from the Green Zone in the early hours of Monday, signalling to people to take cover inside the heavily fortified compound on the west bank of the Tigris River.

Late on Sunday, Reuters correspondents on the opposite bank heard missiles whistling overhead and exploding inside the compound.

Iraqi police said eight missiles or mortars bombs hit the Green Zone and 14 fell in other parts of the Iraqi capital before nightfall in several quick bursts, killing two people and wounding 20. At least one more barrage of missiles was fired later.

The United States blames rogue elements of al-Sadr’s militia for firing the rockets. It accuses neighbouring Iran of supplying the weapons and says some were made as recently as last year. Iran denies the accusations.

Militiamen have fired 700 missiles and mortars over the past month in Baghdad, but US forces had said they believed they had reduced the fighters’ ability to strike the Green Zone by occupying the part of the Sadr City slum closest to it. – Reuters