DIWANIYA, Iraq, (Reuters) – Authorities put the Iraqi city of Diwaniya under curfew on Thursday after a man was killed and several wounded in clashes that followed a U.S. army raid on an office of radical Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
U.S. troops reinforced the Shi’ite city, 180 km (115 miles) south of Baghdad, two weeks ago after fighting between Sadr’s Mehdi Army militia and the Iraqi army left dozens reported dead.
Ten people were wounded on Thursday, doctors said, after guards at the provincial governor’s office fired on dozens of Sadr followers protesting about the overnight raid. A woman and child were hurt when U.S. troops clashed with stone-throwing Sadr supporters outside their movement’s local headquarters.
Among the wounded were two policemen, one of them a colonel in charge of the city’s emergency task force.
Officials in Sadr’s movement said U.S. troops raided their headquarters in Diwaniya around 4 a.m. (0000 GMT), removing computers and papers. Sadr’s group is part of the Shi’ite bloc which dominates the government, but is also engaged in a power struggle in oil-rich southern Iraq with other Shi’ite factions.
A local journalist saw soldiers return to the area of the Sadr office, on a crowded, narrow commercial street, later in the morning.
People near the office threw rocks at the Americans, and there was some shooting and explosions, he said. He saw an object thrown from a U.S. patrol vehicle, then heard a blast. A woman and her daughter, aged about 8, were hurt, in the explosion, he said.
After the U.S. force withdrew, several dozen Sadr supporters marched to the office of the governor, where guards there opened fire on them. Gunmen then also appeared among the demonstrators.
At least 20 Iraqi soldiers were killed in the Aug. 28 battle with the militia. Commanders said about 50 guerrillas were killed, though Mehdi Army leaders put their casualties at three.
A Polish military helicopter was forced down by gunfire during the fighting, which highlighted factional power struggles among Iraq’s now dominant Shi’ite majority, especially in the oil-rich, overwhelmingly Shi’ite south of the country.
A deal brokered in the nearby holy city of Najaf between Sadr and the local governor, who represents the rival Shi’ite party SCIRI, brought an end to hours of clashes two weeks ago.
A U.S. force with dozens of vehicles including tanks was then despatched to the Polish-run base in the hitherto peaceful, city, Iraqi commanders said. The Americans have mounted patrols and Sadr aides have told his followers not to confront them.
Hundreds of Mehdi Army fighters were killed in two abortive uprisings against U.S. and British occupation in 2004.
Shi’ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has promised to disband militias from all communities and to build up the Iraqi security forces. It is not clear, however, how he aims to persuade the likes of the Mehdi Army to lay down its arms.
Many in the once dominant Sunni minority blame Sadr’s followers for sectarian death squad killings, a charge the young cleric vehemently denies. U.S. officials say Sadr is not in full control of the movement that owes him allegiance, however.