5 Militia Killed In Sadr City Stronghold

An Iraqi man passes next to bombed cars after an attack by U.S. warplanes and helicopter, in Sadr City district of Baghdad on Saturday, May 26, 2007. The U.S. airstrike hit a gas station causing widespread damage to 10 vehicles killing three people and wounding eight civilians, the police said. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim)
AP Photo/Karim Kadim
A day after radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr resurfaced to end nearly four months in hiding and demand U.S. troops leave Iraq, American forces raided his Sadr City stronghold and killed five suspected militia fighters in air strikes Saturday.

The U.S. military acknowledges the overnight raid in which they captured a "suspected terrorist cell leader." When U.S. surveillance showed a convoy closing in, helicopters attacked nine cars that were believed to be positioning themselves to attack American forces after the raid, killing five gunmen.

CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann reports that outraged witnesses say innocent people waiting at a gas station were injured when a row of cars were attacked by U.S. helicopters.

Three people were killed and at least seven injured in the blast in Sadr City on Saturday.

One man described his lucky escape.

"The car behind me was hit by a missile and I got out of my car and ran away. The second missile hit my car," said Abu Lina.

An Associated Press television team saw the twisted wreckage of burn-out vehicles and blood on the ground.

Some of the injured were taken to the nearby Ali Imam hospital, where doctors treated what appeared to be shrapnel injuries.

Al-Sadr's reappearance in the fourth month of the U.S.-Iraqi security crackdown on Baghdad and environs was expected to complicate the mission to crack down on violence and broker political compromise in the country.

Hours after the cleric spoke in at a key Shiite shrine in Kufa, about 100 miles south of Baghdad, the notorious leader of al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia in the city of Basra was killed in a shootout as British and Iraq troops tried to arrest him, police and the British military said, further inflaming tensions in the Shiite areas of southern Iraq.

Al-Sadr went underground — reportedly in Iran — at the start of the U.S.-led security crackdown on Baghdad 14 weeks ago. He also had ordered his militia off the streets to prevent conflict with U.S. forces.

Strassman notes that al-Sadr — one of Iraq's most popular and divisive leaders, whose army of militants is blamed for the murder of thousands of Sunnis — seems to be repositioning himself as the great uniter.

During his address yesterday, al-Sadr peppered the speech with nationalist overtones, criticizing the Iraqi government for not providing services, appealing to his followers not to fight with Iraqi security forces, and reaching out to Sunnis.

"To our Iraqi Sunni brothers, I say that the occupation sows dissension among us and that strength is unity and division is weakness," he said. "I'm ready to cooperate with them in all fields."

Al-Sadr's return to the Shiite holy city of Najaf appeared to be an effort by the 33-year-old firebrand cleric to regain control over his militia, which had begun fragmenting, and to take advantage of the illness of a Shiite rival. There also had been some indication that his absence from the national arena was costing him political support.

In Other Developments:

  • The U.S. military announced the deaths of eight U.S. soldiers and a Marine, putting May on pace to be one of the deadliest months for U.S. forces here in years.
  • The Mahdi Army received a blow when its Basra leader, Wissam al-Waili, 23, also known as Abu Qadir, was shot and killed along with his brother and two aides during a gunbattle with British and Iraqi troops, police and the British military said. Late Friday and into the early hours of Saturday, Mahdi Army loyalists surrounded a police station after hitting it with mortar fire, a top Basra police official said. He claimed that British helicopters responded and fired on a house near the police station to drive away the attackers. A second top police officer said two British forces and an Iraqi policeman were wounded.
  • An al Qaeda front group affiliated with insurgent Sunnis warned President Bush Saturday that the Iraq war funding recently approved by Congress would not improve chances for success. "Don't be happy for the money allocated to your soldiers," said a statement issued by the Islamic State of Iraq. "With God's help, the money will heal no wound and change nothing at all ... the battleground will be a witness to what we say." The statement was posted on a Web site commonly used by Islamic extremists, but its authenticity could not be verified.