BAGHDAD (AFP) – American troops fought street battles with Shiite militia in Baghdad’s Sadr City, killing three people on the first full day of a deal to end fighting in the area, a military official said Monday.
US military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Steven Stover said troops came under attack in three incidents on Sunday evening and Monday morning in Sadr City, stronghold of the Mahdi Army militia of anti-US cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
Stover said two “criminals” were shot dead by US troops in two confrontations while the third was killed by a tank shell.
Medical and police sources in Sadr City, a teeming slum area where two million Iraqis live, said two bodies had been brought to the main hospital together with 25 wounded people.
The latest skirmishes came despite a deal announced on Saturday by the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and Sadr’s movement that they will end the violence in Sadr City.
Stover said there were no rocket attacks from the Sadr City area during the past 24 hours, but that seven mortar rounds were fired in west Baghdad, although there were no casualties in those attacks.
One US soldier was killed in a roadside blast in northwestern Baghdad on Sunday night, but that was not in the Sadr City area, the US military said in a separate statement.
One of the main issues fuelling fighting in Sadr City has been the US military’s construction of a huge barrier in the southern section of the shantytown to control the access of residents.
Stover said construction will continue despite the deal, after the US military said on Sunday it was 80 percent completed.
There was no immediate comment from the Sadr movement.
“We have no intentions of stopping our construction of the walls which have been so effective in enhancing security and stability,” Stover told AFP. “It restricts the movement of the enemy and the re-introduction of weapons and munitions to the criminal elements.”
Since late March, the district has been rocked by gunfire, shelling and air strikes as militiamen clashed with US and Iraqi government troops. The US has a permanent aerial reconnaissance unit in the area.
Hundreds of people have been killed and scores wounded in the fighting. The US military said they had killed at least 150 militiamen in the past two months. The military blames the militia for killing or wounding 269 civilians.
“We were not the aggressors in these attacks,” Stover said adding that the US military and Iraqi security forces will continue to defend themselves and the Iraqi population with lethal force.
Fighting swiftly spread to Sadr City after Maliki ordered a crackdown on Shiite fighters in the main southern port city and oil hub of Basra in March.
Clashes intensified after US forces began constructing the concrete barricade which the military says aims to stop infiltration by militiamen and halt rocket and mortar fire against the Green Zone which houses the Iraqi government and the US embassy in central Baghdad.