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Iraqi police round up 21 in Karbala raids

Iraqi gunmen muster their forces during last week's bloody firefight against U.S. troops in Karbala.
Iraqi gunmen muster their forces during last week's bloody firefight against U.S. troops in Karbala.

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraqi security forces working with coalition troops appear to have completed overnight raids in the holy Shiite city of Karbala, a resident told CNN.

Following the operation, two holy Islamic shrines were closed for Tuesday morning prayers, but later reopened.

According to a coalition military official, the raids, backed by U.S. helicopter gunships, netted 21 people. Residents reported hearing no gunfire during the overnight operation.

Members of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, backed by U.S. and Polish soldiers, began the operation around 2 a.m. (7 p.m. Monday ET), the official said. Residents in the city said a curfew imposed during the raids was lifted at 4:30 a.m. (9:30 p.m. ET).

In the midst of the raids, the coalition official said the operation was going "relatively peacefully."

"There are no known casualties at this stage," the official said.

The pre-dawn raids were being carried out against "criminal elements," and not "targeting against one specific individual," he said.

This official said authorities are still working to identify those in custody, but it is believed that firebrand Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr was not among those rounded up.

Sadr has said he wants an Islamic state formed and has accused the United States of fomenting unrest in Karbala, a city south of Baghdad where there has been a power struggle among rival Shiite factions.

"America seeks to apply the feature of terrorism on me in particular," he said last week.

The home of Ayatollah Mohammed Mahmoud al-Hassani, a shiite Muslim cleric in Karbala, was the site of a 12-hour gunfight last Friday. Coalition officials have said the firefight began when the commanding officer of a military police battalion for the 101st Airborne Division and two other U.S. military police attempted to negotiate with armed men outside Hassani's home.

The three were ambushed and killed, resulting in the intense gunbattle. Two Iraqi police officers were also killed in the gunfight, and 12 members of the joint patrol were wounded.

Lt. Col. Kim Orlando, 43, the commanding officer of the 716th Military Police Battalion, 101st Airborne Division, is the highest-ranking officer killed in the Iraq war to date.


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