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Sunni Mosques Attacked In Baghdad

Bombs and a mortar round struck Sunni mosques in Baghdad and northeast of the capital Friday, killing at least 17 people and wounding more than 50, authorities said.

The mortar round landed in front of the al-Nidaa Sunni mosque in northern Baghdad about 2 p.m., killing five people, including a policeman, and wounding two worshippers, the army said.

A car bomb also exploded about 10 minutes later as worshippers were leaving a Sunni mosque in western Baghdad, killing three people, a woman and two children, police Lt. Maitham Abdul-Razzaq said.

Northeast of Baghdad, a roadside bomb struck worshippers leaving the Ahmed bin Hanbal Sunni mosque in Baqouba, killing one person and wounding five others, according to police.

The explosions hit the mosques despite a four-hour driving ban in the capital aimed at preventing such attacks that often target the main weekly Islamic religious service.

In other developments:

  • Iraqi forces backed by U.S. aircraft battled militants in Sadr City, a Shiite stronghold of eastern Baghdad, early Friday, killing or wounding more than 30 fighters and capturing an extremist leader who was the target of the raid, Iraqi and U.S. officials said.
  • Iraqi troops backed by U.S. soldiers arrested a top regional commander of a Shiite militia near Hillah, a U.S. statement said. The moves appeared part of a crackdown on sectarian militias blamed for the escalation in Shiite-Sunni violence that has led to fears of civil war in recent months.
  • America's two top officials in Iraq, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and Gen. George W. Casey, sought to calm Iraqi anger over allegations that U.S. soldiers were involved in the rape-murder of a girl, promising an open investigation and calling such acts "absolutely inexcusable and unacceptable."
  • A Sunni cleric was abducted in Baghdad, a powerful religious leader said in his sermon, denouncing the attack. Ahmed Abdul Ghafour al-Samaraie, the head of the Sunni Endowment, the state agency responsible for Sunni mosques and shrines, said he had been informed that Sheik Alaa of the Ibn Taimya mosque had been kidnapped at a checkpoint.

    The individual that the U.S. military says it captured in Sadr City is described as the head of multiple insurgent cells in Baghdad, reports . Apparently, his followers have kidnapped, tortured and murdered Iraqi civilians and he's also in charge of what they're calling a punishment committee.

    "They seem very proud of the person they captured, but it's odd that they haven't named exactly who this person is," says Cowan. "He seems to be someone that they described as being charge of a whole host of different insurgent cells around the country but they didn't actually say who it was."

    Residents of the Shiite neighborhood said he was Abu Diraa, a commander in the Mahdi militia of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

    The U.S. statement said the militant leader was involved "in the transfer of weapons from Syria into Iraq" in an effort to break away "from his current insurgent organization." The statement did not mention any U.S. role in the raid, but residents said they could hear American aircraft providing cover.

    In a statement Thursday, the U.S. said Iraqi and U.S. forces also arrested Adnan al-Unaybi, commander of a Mahdi militia force south of Baghdad. The statement said he was arrested north of Hillah, about 60 miles south of Baghdad.


  • An al-Sadr aide, Sheik Abdul-Hadi al-Darraji, denounced the Baghdad raid, saying 11 civilians were killed and dozens wounded as U.S. jets fired on the area as people were sleeping on their roofs because of the searing summer temperatures and electricity shortages.

    "This is a big escalation from the American side," he said. "I condemn all the silence toward such violations and I call for the withdrawal of the American forces."

    An Iraqi army officer said the Americans had provided them with a list of names of people to be arrested in Sadr City. Iraqi soldiers led the raid while the Americans played a support role, but nobody was arrested because of the clashes, the officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

    The early morning raid also came as security forces were searching for a female Sunni legislator, who was abducted by gunmen in a nearby Shiite area nearly a week ago. Al-Sadr's aide said his group had condemned the kidnapping and denied that the cleric's followers or members of the Mahdi army were linked to it.

    The rare joint statement by the U.S. Ambassador and the senior U.S. commander in Iraq on the alleged rape came as military officers investigated the apparent failures of leadership to keep a close watch on American troops.

    Several groups of soldiers and Marines are under investigation for alleged slayings of unarmed civilians, and three U.S. soldiers were killed by insurgents last month after they apparently were left alone despite procedures designed to prevent that.

    The joint statement underscored U.S. efforts to contain the political damage that the March 12 killing of a girl and three relatives has caused among an Iraqi public increasingly weary of foreign troops.

    "The alleged events of that day are absolutely inexcusable and unacceptable behavior," the statement said. "We will fully pursue all the facts in a vigorous and open process as we investigate this situation."

    "What's extraordinary about the statement in and of itself is it came out before these men are even charged," reports . "It did seem to be an attempt not only on the military's part but the U.S. Ambassador's part to try to calm some of the tensions that have come out since the release of more details about this alleged crime."

    President Bush called the attack "a despicable crime, if true," that could color perceptions of American troops.

    "These are very serious charges and what the Iraqis must understand is that we will deal with these in a very transparent, upfront way," Bush said during a broadcast interview.

    Khalilzad and Casey promised a vigorous investigation and prosecution of the case and pledged to "work closely with the government of Iraq to ensure transparency as we complete the investigatory and legal processes."

    Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has called for an independent investigation into the attack and a review of the agreement granting U.S. forces immunity from prosecution by Iraqi courts.

    Ex-soldier Steven Green has been charged with rape and four counts of murder in the March 12 incident in Mahmoudiya, 20 miles south of Baghdad. At least three soldiers still in Iraq are under investigation, including a sergeant, a specialist and a private first class, a defense official in Baghdad told The Associated Press on Thursday.

    The case has raised questions about adherence to procedures set for U.S. troops in Iraq, as well as discipline within the suspects' unit. The soldiers were from the 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, the same unit hit by the insurgent killings of three soldiers last month.