BAGHDAD (AFP) – A US air strike in Baghdad’s Shiite bastion of Sadr City killed at least nine people on Sunday, the American military told AFP.
The air strike killed “nine criminals in Sadr City at around 8:00 am (0500 GMT),” the military said without providing further details.
Iraqi security officials had earlier said clashes erupted between Shiite fighters and US forces in Sadr City, Baghdad bastion of the powerful Mahdi Army militia of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
The firefights started around midnight (2100 GMT Saturday) and continued sporadically until after dawn, defence and interior ministry officials said.
The clashes come days before a protest on April 9 in Sadr City called by the cleric against the presence of US forces in Iraq, coinciding with the fifth anniversary of the toppling of dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Sadr’s office says it expects at least one million people to turn out for the protest.
The Mahdi Army fighters have since March 25 being battling Iraqi and US forces in Sadr City and in the southern city of Basra after Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki ordered a crackdown on “lawless” Shiite militiamen.
The fighting, which raged until Sunday last week when Sadr called his fighters off the streets, killed more than 700 people. Since Sadr’s order, clashes have been sporadic and focused mainly in Sadr City.
US commanders have previously said their forces are targeting “criminals” firing mortars and rockets from Sadr City into Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, seat of the Iraqi government and the US embassy.
A US military spokesman on Friday said US troops were in parts of Sadr City securing humanitarian missions in the sprawling shanty town being conducted by Iraq’s security forces and that civilians were not been targeted.
“We protect the Iraqi people and aggressively pursue armed criminals, Al-Qaeda in Iraq and Iranian-supported Special Groups who are committing violent acts or are planning to,” the spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Steven Stover, told AFP.