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Iraq Transition

Iraqi leader disputes U.S. account of raid on militia

Story Highlights

• The U.S. says the Iraqi government authorized a raid on a Shiite militia
Iraq's prime minister says he wasn't contacted about raid
• Four killed in Baghdad as U.S. and Iraqis clash with cleric's militia
• Kidnapped soldier did not have permission for visit to family, U.S. says
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- U.S. and Iraqi forces on Wednesday launched a raid in Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's turf in eastern Baghdad.

The operation, which the United States said the Iraqi government authorized, sparked a two-hour firefight with al-Sadr's Mehdi Army militia, which attacked U.S. troops while they were conducting a search.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki appeared to distance himself from the raid, indicating he was not consulted and did not give the OK in the densely populated Shiite neighborhood.

"What is happening in Sadr City and other areas is that it was really a result of miscommunications between the multinational forces and our forces," he said. (Watch aftermath of two-hour firefight in Sadr City -- 2:44)

Al-Maliki said there must be better cooperation and the issue has to be discussed.

Al-Maliki also criticized top U.S. military and diplomatic officials in Iraq for saying Tuesday that the country needed to set a timetable to stop the bloodshed. (Full story)

President Bush on Wednesday reiterated his support for al-Maliki, saying he's "the right man to achieve the goal in Iraq."

"If his point is that those benchmarks, or the way forward, can't be imposed upon Iraq by an outside force, he's right. This is a sovereign government," Bush said at a news conference at the White House. (Read more about Bush's remarks)

He also noted, "There's a lot of operations taking place, which means that sometimes communications may not be as good as they should be. And we'll continue to work very closely with the [Iraqi] government to make sure that the communications are solid."

In Wednesday's raid, four people were killed and 20 others were wounded, an Iraq Interior Ministry official said.

The U.S. military said the operation's purpose was "to capture a top illegal armed group commander directing widespread death-squad activity throughout eastern Baghdad."

The raid came as Iraqi and U.S. government officials pondered how to deal with al-Sadr and his militia, which are both a thorn in the side and a force to be reckoned with for the American-led coalition.

Military commanders have considered al-Sadr's militia a participant in the upsurge of Shiite-Sunni sectarian unrest in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq.

However, a large-scale military push against al-Sadr hasn't unfolded as the U.S. government has relied on Iraqi officials to pursue a political solution with al-Sadr and his forces for disarming his militia.

The Iraqi government has been reluctant and, up to this point, unwilling to take military action against the militia, in part because al-Maliki owes his position within the government to support from al-Sadr's bloc.

Last week, U.S. and Iraqi troops arrested an al-Sadr official on suspicion that he was involved in illegal activities, but he was released soon after at the Iraqi prime minister's request, according to U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell.

Caldwell said Iraq's government had the right to follow its own course and had "a lot of information we're not privy to" when making decisions.

Al-Sadr, a fiery anti-American cleric with grass-roots backing across the Shiite heartland, has significant political clout in the new government. In 2004, the fighters loyal to him battled U.S. troops in Iraq.

The issue of disbanding militias has become a priority since Sunni and Shiite militias have been operating with impunity across Iraq, causing displacement as well as death and injury.

Al-Maliki has addressed the issue, saying in a news conference that armed groups and militias harm "the stability and unity" of Iraq.

"The state is the only one that has the right to carry weapons, and we will deal with anybody who is outside the law," al-Maliki said.

Wednesday's raid involved "special Iraqi army forces" that were "supported by coalition advisers," the U.S. military said.

The Interior Ministry official said at least five people were detained during the operation. It was not disclosed whether the target was captured or killed.

The U.S. military said Iraqi soldiers "came under fire and had to defend themselves. They requested support from coalition aircraft, which used precision gunfire only to eliminate the enemy threat."

Airstrikes hit the residential area around 4:30 a.m., according to an official with Imam Ali Hospital. At least five houses and 25 vehicles were damaged during the fighting, the Interior Ministry official said.

Other developments

  • The search continued Wednesday for a U.S. soldier who was abducted this week in Baghdad. The U.S. military and Iraqi forces apprehended an unspecified number of people for "tactical questioning" in raids, the military said. The soldier, an Iraqi-American translator, is believed to have been abducted Monday from a relative's house and didn't have permission to visit his family, a public affairs officer for the 4th Infantry Division said. (Full story)
  • Two people were killed and two others injured when a vehicle exploded Tuesday in a marketplace in Husayba near the Iraqi-Syrian border, the U.S. military said Wednesday. Husayba is on the Euphrates River in Anbar province, west of Baghdad. Towns along the river have been a hotbed of violence, and three U.S. troops were killed Monday in the sprawling Sunni-dominated province.
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    Iraqis demonstrate against a raid that killed four people in Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood Wednesday.

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