Violence in Iraq is escalating despite claims by the Bush administration that the situation is improving for the American occupiers.
Originally uploaded by Pan-African News Wire File Photos.
U.S. Warplanes Attack Shiite Gunmen as Fighting Persists in City South of Baghdad
By EDWARD WONG
New York Times
BAGHDAD, April 7 — American fighter jets carried out an airstrike against Shiite militiamen in the southern city of Diwaniya on Saturday as battles continued there for the second day, American and Iraqi officials said.
The airstrike, called in after residents of an area in Diwaniya told Iraqi soldiers that they saw militiamen with rocket-propelled grenades, killed at least one militiaman, according to the American military.
American and Iraqi soldiers have been battling cells of the Mahdi Army, a formidable Shiite militia, in Diwaniya since Friday. The Iraqi government has declared a round-the-clock curfew, and armored vehicles line main arteries. Since the new Baghdad security plan began Feb. 14, some members of the Mahdi Army have drifted to Diwaniya, and violence has been on the rise there.
The Mahdi Army, which follows the edicts of the cleric Moktada al-Sadr, has a tense relationship with the ruling officials of Diwaniya Province, who are members of a rival Shiite party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, led by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. In August, Mahdi members clashed fiercely with the Iraqi Army in Diwaniya.
Mr. Sadr has been in hiding since the new security plan began, and it is unclear how much power he is exerting over the various Mahdi Army branches.
The fighting in Diwaniya began when American and Iraqi soldiers on Friday closed off neighborhoods suspected of being bases for the Mahdi Army and began house-to-house searches. At least seven Iraqis have been killed in the fighting and at least 15 wounded, a local police official said. Dozens have been arrested.
In Baghdad, officials said Saturday that there were two recent raids by American and Iraqi forces on the homes of Sunni Arab legislators. In the first, American soldiers seized heavy weapons in the home of an unidentified Sunni politician in the Mansour district of western Baghdad on Tuesday, the American military said. Two Sunni officials said the politician was Khalaf al-Elayan, a hard-line Sunni Arab legislator. Mr. Elayan has been out of the country, but his guards have been using the house, said one of the officials, Dhafir al-Ani.
“We believe that anybody who breaks the law should be held accountable according to the law, but unfortunately we see that the Iraqi government has raided the houses of some members of Parliament, including mine,” said Mr. Ani, whose home was raided by Iraqi soldiers last month. “Apparently they are targeting anybody who works against Iranian influence.”
In the raid, the American soldiers found machine guns, assault rifles, pistols, rockets, mortar rounds, body armor, binoculars, timers, two-way radios, photos of burning British soldiers and photos of flag-draped coffins of American soldiers, the American military said. The Iraqi guards were detained.
The second raid was on Friday, at the home of Muhammad al-Daini, another hard-line Sunni Arab legislator. Mr. Daini said Iraqi soldiers seized 31 guns for which he had permits, and arrested five of his guards.
Iraqi Army officials could not be reached for immediate comment.
Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said at a news conference that a meeting of ministers from Iraq and neighboring countries would take place the first week of May in Egypt — not Istanbul, as the United States had wanted, or Baghdad, as the Iraqi government urged. The talks are to be a follow-up to the regional conference in Baghdad last month.
Two American soldiers were killed and seven were wounded in two roadside bombings on Friday, the American military said.
Other deaths reported Saturday by the Iraqi authorities included at least five members of an elite Iraqi police unit in a suicide car bombing at a checkpoint in Samarra; three Iraqis in Baghdad in separate attacks; an Iraqi soldier in an ambush north of Kut; and a teacher in a mortar attack in southern Baquba.
Two bodies bearing signs of torture were found in Kut, 4 in Falluja, 16 in four locations in Diyala Province, and 12 across Baghdad.
The insurgent group Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia claimed responsibility for shooting down an American helicopter south of Baghdad on Thursday. The United States military said that a helicopter carrying nine people crashed, wounding four, but gave no details about the cause.
Iranian Says C.I.A. Tortured Him
TEHRAN, April 7 — An Iranian diplomat who was released last week after two months of detention in Iraq said Saturday that he had been tortured by the C.I.A., the ISNA news agency reported.
The diplomat, Jalal Sharafi, the second secretary at the embassy in Baghdad, said he was abducted by agents who carried Iraqi Defense Ministry identification cards. The news agency said that signs of torture were still visible on his body and that he was being treated.
The National Security Agency spokesman, Gordon D. Johndroe, said Saturday that the United States was not involved with Mr. Sharafi’s detention. “The Iranian propaganda machine has been in overdrive since they paraded the British sailors around on TV,” The Associated Press quoted him as saying.
Ali Adeeb, Abdul Razzaq al-Saiedi, Ahmad Fadam and Khalid al-Ansary contributed reporting from Baghdad, and Iraqi employees of The New York Times from Hilla, Kut, Tikrit and Falluja.
Many killed in Iraq blasts
Dozens were injured in the blast at Mahmudiya
A series of attacks in and around Baghdad have killed at least 20 people and wounded dozens.
In the deadliest attack, at least 15 people were killed and 25 wounded in a blast in the town of Mahmudiya, 30 km south of the capital, a security official said.
Police said the blast on Sunday was caused by a Katyusha rocket, but Muaid al-Amiri, the town's mayor, said it was a car bomb that targeted industrial workshops.
One multi-storey building was completely demolished and the death toll was expected to rise, he said.
Many of those wounded were in their homes at the time of the blast.
Another four people were killed and six wounded in a car bomb attack in Baghdad's district of Al-Alam.
A policeman was killed and another two wounded when a roadside bomb exploded near their patrol in the district of Adhamiya.
Also on Sunday, the US military announced the deaths of four American soldiers, killed a day earlier in an explosion near their vehicle in Diyala province northeast of Baghdad.
The four US soldiers killed on Saturday were assigned to Task Force Lightning, the US military said in a statement. A fifth soldier was wounded in the blast.
Diyala province, which lies northeast of Baghdad, has seen a spike in attacks on US and Iraqi forces since the start of a plan two months ago to pacify the capital.
US forces said they have captured a senior al-Qaeda leader and two others in a raid on Sunday morning in Baghdad.
The al-Qaeda figure was identified as "the gatekeeper to the al-Qaeda emir of Baghdad" and was linked to several car bomb attacks in the Iraqi capital, the US military said in a statement, without naming the captive.