U.S. and Iraqi officials raid Shiite Sadr City slum, detain 7 militia members

Tuesday, November 21st 2006, 6:27 am
By: News On 6

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ U.S. and Iraqi forces raided the overwhelmingly Shiite Sadr City slum on Tuesday and detained seven militia members, including one believed to have information about an American soldier kidnapped last month, the military said.

Tuesday's raid in Sadr City was the third in four days by U.S. and Iraqi forces in the slum, which is the headquarters of the Madhi Army, the Shiite militia suspected of having carried out the mass kidnapping at a Ministry of Higher Education office in Baghdad on Nov. 14.

Iraqi Police Capt. Mohammed Ismail said a young boy and two other people were killed in the early morning raid and 15 people were wounded. Several houses were damaged. The U.S. military reported no coalition casualties, but said other deaths or injuries could not be determined.

Cradling the child's body outside a hospital morgue, a Shiite legislator told reporters that Iraq's government should be condemned for allowing such attacks.

``I am suspending my membership in parliament since it remains silent about crimes such as this against the Iraqi people,'' legislator Saleh Al-Ukailli told reporters outside the Imam Ali Hospital. ``I will not return to parliament until the occupation troops leave the country.''

The body of the boy was wrapped in a bloodstained cloth, with only the face visible. Nearby, minivans left with two wooden caskets on their roofs.

Al-Ukailli is one of 30 legislators in Iraq's 275-member parliament who follow Muqtada al-Sadr, the anti-American Shiite cleric whose main offices are in Sadr City.

Iraq and Syria, which severed diplomatic relations 24 years ago, officially restored them on Tuesday in a development that could stem some of Iraq's unrelenting violence. In central Baghdad, some Iraqis were cheered by the newly restored relations.

``Maybe improved ties between Iraq and Syria, and some of our other Arab neighbors, will help us one day get rid of the U.S. forces,'' said Ghalib Akzar.

The U.S. command said Iraqi forces came under fire during the Sadr City raid, and that U.S. aircraft returned fire.

The U.S. command said the operation ``detained an illegal armed group kidnapping and murder cell leader ... reported to have firsthand knowledge of the control and movement'' of Ahmed Qusai al-Taayie, a 41-year-old reserve soldier from Ann Arbor, Mich., who was visiting his Iraqi wife in Baghdad on Oct. 23 when gunmen handcuffed him and took him away.

Six other cell members also were detained, the military said.

The Madhi Army is al-Sadr's heavily armed militia, which claims Sadr City as its headquarters.

A rogue cell from the Mahdi Army militia also is suspected of having captured al-Taayie.

The restoration of relations with Syria has raised hopes that the sectarian revenge killings devastating Iraq could be brought under control. Both Iraq and the U.S. have challenged Syria over its role in supporting Iraq's Sunni-Arab insurgency.

``We hope that all neighboring countries will cooperate with Iraq to achieve stability and security, and work to prevent terrorists from infiltrating Iraq,'' said Khalid Mohan, an Iraqi in central Baghdad.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem arrived in Iraq on Sunday in the first such visit by a senior Syrian official since the 2003 fall of Saddam Hussein's regime. He was expected to return to Damascus later Tuesday.

``Iraq's flag will fly in the sky of Damascus and Syria's flag will fly in the sky of Baghdad'' Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said. He said ambassadors would be named soon.

In Damascus, the government Tishrin newspaper said in an editorial that ``a new page has been opened in the relations between the two countries after their abnormal rupture.''

It said Moallem's visit to Iraq ``is a new confirmation that Syria wants welfare for Iraq.''

Imad Shueibi, a political analyst in Damascus, told The Associated Press the restoration of relations is a clear message from Syria that it wants the situation in Iraq to be stable, and a message to the Iraqi side to complete what it has already done for preventing the infiltration of terrorists into Iraq.''

On arrival, Moallem had called for a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces, saying that would reduce violence. But Zebari said the presence of the 140,000-strong American force was ``approved by the Iraqi government.''

Asked about the Syrian's visit, U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said: ``Certainly what we would like to see the Syrians ... prevent foreign fighters from coming across the border into Iraq; and, again, to back up the positive words that they have with some real concrete steps.''

Syria broke diplomatic ties with Iraq in 1982, accusing it of inciting riots in Syria by the banned Muslim Brotherhood. Damascus also sided with Iran in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

Trade ties between Iraq and Syria were restored in 1997.

Also Tuesday:

_Nineteen Iraqis were killed and 33 wounded in attacks outside Sadr City in cities such as Baghdad, Mosul and Baqouba, police said. The tortured bodies of nine Iraqis who had been kidnapped also were found.

_U.S. troops blew up two cars inside the heavily fortified Green Zone after sniffer dogs indicated explosives were inside the vehicles that were used in the motorcade of the parliament speaker, an adviser to parliament said. In what could signal a major security breach, the explosives were found and detonated near the Convention Center, where parliament meets and government officials hold news conferences, Wissam al-Zubeidi said.