U.S. and Iraqi forces engage militias in gunbattle
A fierce gunbattle south of Baghdad on Sunday has left more than 30 insurgents dead and a M1A2 Abrams tank “severely damaged” after getting hit by several rocket-propelled grenades, U.S. military and Iraqi officials said.
The battle — which included U.S. troops from Company D, 2nd Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division; and Iraqi troops from the 1st Battalion, 8th Iraqi Army Division — erupted after the forces raided a house in Diwaniyah that belonged to a Mahdi Army commander.
The man, identified as a “high-value target” in a U.S. military news release, was named as Kifah al-Greiti in an Associated Press report Sunday. Al-Greiti is a commander of the militia loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric who wields increasing political power.
According to U.S. military officials, the “high-value target” was captured.
The combined patrol was attacked by up to 10 RPG teams and small arms fire; six of those RPG teams were killed by American and Iraqi troops, spokesmen said.
“While [Iraqi and American] soldiers were securing the area, additional Iraqi army soldiers continued with their mission and seized the high-value target, who allegedly was involved in the murder of Iraqi army soldiers on Aug. 28. Three other individuals were also detained,” the U.S. military news release read.
No American or Iraqi military casualties were reported by late Sunday afternoon.
The city also was the site of an August gunbattle between Iraqi troops and Madhi Army members; some 20 Iraqi troops and 50 militiamen were killed in that battle.
Iraqi police said they had warrants out for the arrest of 15 Mahdi Army members in connection with the Aug. 28 execution-style slayings of Iraqi soldiers.
Iraqi police Lt. Raed Jabir and Mahdi Army officials said al-Greiti was not arrested, and it was not clear who the captured target was.
“Al-Greiti is one of the American’s most wanted commanders in the city,” Fadhil Qasir, a spokesman for the Mahdi Army, told the AP in Diwaniyah. “They have tried to arrest him several times before and they failed this time also.”
Qasir also denied that the Mahdi Army had suffered any deaths.
Diyaa Ghanim, a doctor at the Diwaniyah general hospital, said as of early afternoon the facility had received no bodies.
Sheik Abdul-Razzaq al-Nadawi, the head of al-Sadr’s office in Diwaniyah, said the Mahdi Army suffered no fatalities but that three were wounded and in critical condition.
He said al-Sadr’s office had negotiated an arrangement with the prime minister’s office that U.S. troops would not enter Mahdi Army neighborhoods in Diwaniyah, and that the presence of U.S. troops overnight had provoked the clashes. “We don’t attack, but when we are attacked, we respond,” he said.
Following the fighting, Iraqi authorities imposed a full curfew in Diwaniyah until further notice, Jabir said.