U.S., Iraqi forces raid mosque in Baghdad
Associated Press Writer
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – Iraqi forces, backed by U.S. soldiers, stormed a key Sunni Muslim mosque in Baghdad after Friday prayers, opening fire and killing at least three people, witnesses said. In the battle for control of Mosul, Iraqi forces raided several areas overnight, killing 15 insurgents, officials said.
It appeared the raid at the Abu Hanifa mosque, long associated with anti-American activity, was part of the crackdown on Sunni clerical militants launched in parallel with military operations against the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah.
The raid came a day after the Iraqi government warned that Islamic clerics who incite violence will be considered as “participating in terrorism.” A number of them already have been arrested, including several members of the Sunni clerical Association of Muslim Scholars, which spoke out against the U.S.-led offensive against Fallujah.
U.S. troops also stormed a Muslim mosque in Qaim, near the Syrian border, a cleric said, calling it retaliation for opposing the Fallujah offensive. Imam Maudafar Abdul Wahab said his mosque was gathering food and supplies to send to Fallujah, and U.S. troops took about $2,000 meant for repair of his mosque.
Another five people were wounded and 40 arrested at the Abu Hanifa mosque in northwestern Baghdad, said the witnesses, who were members of the congregation.
Witnesses heard explosions coming from inside the mosque, apparently from stun grenades. Inside the office of the imam, books, including a Quran, and a computer were found scattered on the floor, and the furniture was turned upside down.
U.S. troops were seen securing the outer perimeter and sealing it off. Some American soldiers also were seen inside the compound.
Abu Hanifa mosque has long been associated with anti-American agitation. Saddam Hussein was seen in the area as the city fell to American forces in April 2003, and U.S. Marines battled Saddam loyalists around the mosque on April 10, 2003, the day after the ousted ruler’s statue was hauled down in Firdous Square.
Elsewhere in Baghdad, a suicide car bomber rammed into a police patrol, killing one policeman and wounding as many as 10 other people, including policemen, authorities said.
In Mosul, Iraq’s third-largest city, Iraqi National Guard and a special police force raided several areas Thursday night, killing 15 insurgents and capturing 10 others, Deputy Gov. Khasro Gouran said.
Three policemen also were killed Thursday when masked gunmen set up a checkpoint in eastern Mosul and shot them when they displayed identification, Gouran said.
Elsewhere in Mosul, a car bomb attack on a U.S. patrol in the northeastern Mosul injured one U.S. soldier, and a raid overnight at a hospital allegedly used by insurgents in Mosul led to the arrests of three suspected terrorists, the military said.
U.S. and Iraqi forces began a major military operation Tuesday to wrest control of Mosul after gunmen last week attacked police stations, bridges and political offices in apparent support of Fallujah guerrillas.
On Friday, three of the city’s five bridges were reopened to traffic and most of the city remained calm, though U.S. forces came under some “indirect fire” that caused no injuries, the military said.
During a routine patrol, U.S. forces also found burned ballot materials inside a Mosul warehouse after a tip by an Iraqi security officer. Efforts are under way to replace the materials for the January elections.
Iraq is slated to hold national elections by Jan. 31 to elect a 275-member assembly in what is expected to be a major step toward building democracy.
In Fallujah, battles flared as troops hunted holdout insurgents, and one U.S. Marine and one Iraqi soldier were killed, U.S. officials said.
U.S. troops sweeping through the city west of Baghdad found what appeared to be a key command center of terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, along with a separate workshop where an SUV registered in Texas was being converted into a car bomb and a classroom containing flight plans and instructions on shooting down planes.
Iraqi authorities have acknowledged that al-Zarqawi and other insurgent leaders escaped the invasion of Fallujah.
The U.S. casualty toll in the Fallujah offensive stood at 51 dead and about 425 wounded. An estimated 1,200 insurgents have been killed, with about 1,025 enemy fighters detained, the military said.
In other developments:
– U.S troops arrested a representative of Muqtada al-Sadr near the holy city of Karbala – the second arrest of the radical Shiite cleric’s aides in two days, al-Sadr’s office said. On Thursday, another al-Sadr aide was arrested in Najaf for speaking out against the U.S.-led assault on Fallujah.
– U.S. troops were conducting an offensive in the northern Iraqi town of Hawija after a recent escalation of violence in the Sunni stronghold wounded three American soldiers and 10 Iraqi National Guards.
– Insurgents struck back in the volatile Sunni area of Haditha, northwest of Fallujah, blowing up the mayor’s office and the police command center. Leaflets warned that anyone wearing a police uniform or reporting to a police station “will be killed.”
Associated Press Military Writer Robert Burns in Washington contributed to this report.