69 Iraqis die in violence, including in a US raid
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69 Iraqis die in violence, including in a US raid

Police found 30 more victims of the sectarian slaughter ravaging Iraq - most of them beheaded - dumped on a village road north of Baghdad on Sunday.

india Updated: Mar 27, 2006 04:42 IST

Police found 30 more victims of the sectarian slaughter ravaging Iraq - most of them beheaded- dumped on a village road north of Baghdad on Sunday, and at least 16 other Iraqis were killed in a US-backed raid in a Shiite neighborhood near Baghdad's volatile Sadr City slum.

Accounts of the raid varied. Aides to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said 18 men were killed in the joint US-Iraqi raid on a mosque. Police said 22 people were killed in the incident at the al-Mustafa mosque. The Americans said Iraqi special forces backed by US troops killed 16 "insurgents" in a raid on a community meeting hall after gunmen opened fire on approaching troops.

"No mosques were entered or damaged during this operation," the military said in a statement issued at least five hours after what it termed a "twilight raid." It said a non-Western hostage was freed, but no name or nationality was provided.

"As elements of the 1st Iraqi Special Operations Forces Brigade entered their objective, they came under fire. In the ensuing exchange of fire...(Iraqi troops) killed 16 insurgents. As they secured their objective, they detained 15 more individuals," the military statement said.

Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shiite, expressed concern and telephoned Iraqi military leaders and US commander Gen George Casey to "discuss the situation," said spokesman Abdul Rezzaq Al-Kadhimi.

He said the prime minister promised government compensation for families of those killed in the raid and called for Iraqis to be patient until an investigation was completed.

Police Lt. Hassan Hmoud, who put the death toll at 22 with eight wounded, said some of the casualties were at the Islamic Dawa Party-Iraq Organization office near the mosque. The incident started when U.S. forces came under fire from an unknown source in the direction of the mosque and the party office, he said. The party is a separate organization from the one headed by al-Jaafari. Shiite legislator and party spokesman, Khudayer al-Khuzai, said 15 members of the party were holding a "cultural meeting" in an office near the Shiite mosque. "They have nothing to do with the acts of violence," he said.

Al-Khuzai claimed that after coming under attack, US forces raided the party office, "tortured" the men, dragged them out and "executed" them. He said it wasn't clear who attacked the US troops.

The main Shiite political bloc, the United Iraqi Alliance, planned to hold a meeting on Tuesday to demand a quick investigation to determine the reasons behind the incident "because the Iraqi blood is not cheap," al-Khuzai said.

US military spokesman, Lt Col Barry Johnson, denied that the troops targeted a party office.
"The building was not a party headquarters but a community meeting room, and there was substantial intelligence on this building showing that that was not, in fact, what it was used for," he said.

Associated Press videotape from the scene showed a tangle of dead male bodies with gunshot wounds on the floor of what was said by the cameraman to be the mosque imam's living quarters, attached to the place of worship.

The tape showed 5.56 mm shell casings scattered about the floor. U.S. forces use that caliber ammunition. A grieving man in white Arab robes stepped among the dead bodies strewn across the blood smeared floor.

A total of at least 69 people were reported killed Sunday in one of the bloodiest days in weeks. Most of the dead appeared to be victims the shadowy Sunni-Sectarian score-settling that has torn at the fabric of Iraq since Feb. 22 when a Shiite shrine was blown apart in Samarra, north of Baghdad.

Much of the recent killing is seen as the work of Shiite militias or death squads that have infiltrated or are tolerated by Iraqi police under the control of the Shiite-dominated Interior Ministry. Many of the victims have been found dumped, mainly in Baghdad, with their hands tied, showing signs of torture and shot in the head.

In an apparent bid to clamp down on police wrongdoing, American troops raided an Interior Ministry building and briefly detained about 10 Iraqi policemen after discovering 17 Sudanese prisoners in the facility, Iraqi authorities reported.

The short-lived incident was reminiscent of a similar US raid last November that found detainees apparently tortured, but in this case the Americans quickly determined the Sudanese were being legitimately held, said Maj Gen Ali Ghalib, a deputy interior minister. He said the prisoners had not been abused. The US military command here had no immediate comment on the report.

Ghalib said the US troops "transferred the Sudanese detainees to another location and they later released the policemen after they had determined that the detention of the Sudanese was legal." In last November's incident, up to 173 detainees _ malnourished and some showing signs of torture _ were found in an Interior Ministry building seized by US troops. The discovery set off a round of international demands for investigations and reform of Iraqi police practices to ensure observance of human rights. The raid came a day after US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad spoke out on the need to cap the sectarian, militia-inspired killing, saying "More Iraqis are dying today from the militia violence than from the terrorists." He did not say which militias he meant nor did he define who the terrorists were.

The two major militia forces in the country are Shiite organizations - the Mahdi Army of al-Sadr and the Badr Brigades, the armed wing of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Both have ties with Iran.

Hours before the raid near Sadr City, the firebrand al-Sadr personally was the apparent target of a mortar attack at his home in the holy city of Najaf, 150 kilometers (90 miles) south of Baghdad. At least one mortar round slammed to earth within 50 meters (yards) of al-Sadr's home, wounding one guard and a passing child, said al-Sadr aide Sheik Sahib al-Amiri.

Shortly after the attack, al-Sadr issued a statement calling for calm.

"I call upon all brothers to stay calm and I call upon the Iraqi army to protect the pilgrims as the Nawasib (militants) are aiming to attack Shiites every day," he said, referring to Wednesday's commemoration marking the death of the Prophet Muhammad. In the north of the country, meanwhile, Kurdish writer Kamal Karim was handed an 18-month sentence for articles on a Kurdish website that accused Masoud Barazani, one of the regions top leaders, of corruption.

First Published: Mar 27, 2006 01:23 IST