BAGHDAD, (Reuters) – U.S.-backed Iraqi special forces raided a target in the Shi’ite slum district of Sadr City in Baghdad on Friday, returning to an area where recent raids have sparked tensions with Washington over cracking down on militias.
The U.S. military said special Iraqi Army forces with coalition advisers detained three suspects during the raid on “an illegal armed group murder and kidnapping cell”.
Washington has been pressing Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to crack down on the Mehdi Army, a Shi’ite Muslim militia loyal to cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose movement provides key support to Maliki in parliament.
Sadr City is the main stronghold in Baghdad of the Mehdi Army, blamed by Sunni Muslims and Washington for operating sectarian death squads.
U.S. and Iraqi troops lifted roadblocks around Sadr City on Tuesday under orders from Maliki, flexing his political muscle after a week of friction with Washington before U.S. elections.
Maliki had criticised a raid on Sadr City last week targeting a suspected militia death squad leader, saying he had not been informed in advance that the scope of the mission also included hunting for a missing U.S. soldier.
The U.S. military launched a massive search for the soldier, an American of Iraqi-descent who was kidnapped on Oct. 23 after going to visit relatives and his Iraqi wife outside the safety of the Green Zone where most foreigners in Baghdad are based.
The soldier’s family say he was taken by gunmen from the Mehdi Army.
Maliki, who leads a Shi’ite-dominated unity government, has struggled to crack down on Shi’ite militias linked to his political allies.
The U.S. military said there were no Iraqi security forces or U.S. casualties in Saturday’s raid. “Iraqi forces received small arms and rocket-propelled grenade fire from hostile elements during departure from the objective,” the U.S. statement said. “Iraqi forces returned fire at clearly identified targets to neutralize the threat and continued their return to base.”
A police source in Sadr City said there had been clashes during the raids and several buildings were damaged.