Iraqi Troops Move to Tame a Sunni District in Baghdad

Posted in Iraq | 19-Apr-06 | Author: Kirk Semple| Source: The New York Times

The Iraqi police secured the site of a bombing in the eastern part of Baghdad Tuesday. The attack, in a cafe frequented by the police in the Suleikh neighborhood, killed at least 7 people and wounded more than 20.

BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 18 — Iraqi troops faced sporadic small-arms fire for the second day in a row as they pushed block by block through the predominantly Sunni Arab neighborhood of Adhamiya on Tuesday and sought to tame a local show of armed force and resistance.

The neighborhood, a bastion for some hard-line Sunnis hostile to the Shiite-led national government and their American counterparts, remained sealed within a perimeter cordon of Iraqi and American forces. Residents remained indoors for most of the day.

Iraqi and American officials said the clashes, which began early Monday morning, were a violent expression of the amorphous anti-government insurgency.

But on Tuesday, the origins of the unrest remained unclear. Some neighborhood accounts held that a Shiite militia, some wearing the uniforms of Interior Ministry commandos, had threatened to attack the Abu Hanifa mosque, a revered landmark. Armed local people repelled them, residents said, then turned their weapons on army troops that responded to the clashes.

Government security forces, especially the feared commando brigades attached to the Interior Ministry, have been accused of abetting, and in some cases harboring, Shiite death squads. The suspicions have engendered widespread mistrust of the security forces, especially among Sunni Arabs.

Muhammad al-Askari, a spokesman for the Defense Ministry, said that Iraqi troops killed a man on Tuesday after he attacked them, and that a total of four gunmen had been killed and five detained since Monday. The Iraqi Council for National Dialogue, a Sunni Arab party, said in a statement that 8 residents had been killed and 30 wounded.

Adhamiya remained quiet most of the night, but residents awoke shortly after dawn on Tuesday to the muezzins' cries for help. "God is great!" they called through loudspeakers on the minarets of neighborhood mosques. The phrase has become a code in some Sunni areas for young men to take up arms against an enemy attack.

Gunfire sounded as Iraqi Army troops pressed in from their perimeter positions around the neighborhood, in northeastern Baghdad. The shooting quieted down by early afternoon, residents said, yet the streets remained empty.

Some Sunni Arab leaders blamed Shiite militias for the clashes. "What happened in Adhamiya is an evil act by an armed militia backed by security and government operatives," Dhafir al-Ani, a spokesman for the largest Sunni Arab bloc, the Iraqi Consensus Front, said at a news conference.

In Ramadi, insurgents initiated a series of coordinated attacks on Monday against several locations, including the city's government center, using car bombs, rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and machine guns, the American military command said Tuesday.

In one attack, insurgents holed up in a mosque fired at the government center, a bullet-riddled compound in central Ramadi that frequently comes under attack. It was the fourth time in as many weeks that gunmen had fired on the building from the mosque, said Lt. Col. Stephen M. Neary, commander of the Third Battalion, Eighth Marine Regiment, based in Ramadi.

Marines guarding the government building returned the fire, but insurgents continued shooting from the mosque's minaret. The marines finally pummeled the tower with machine-gun fire and a 20-millimeter round fired from a tank, "after which, fire from the mosque ceased," according to a report from the American military command.

In the eastern Baghdad neighborhood of Qahera, a homemade bomb exploded near a police patrol on Tuesday, killing 4 civilians and wounding 22, including 2 policemen, according to an Interior Ministry official. The official also said that 15 bodies had been discovered dumped in various locations around Baghdad.

Ali Adeeb and Mona Mahmoud contributed reporting for this article.