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Iraqi PM outraged over alleged civilian casualties

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Nuri al-Maliki meets with the top U.S. military commander in Iraq
  • NEW: "There is a great tension" over the reported deaths, PM's spokesman says
  • Iraq Interior Ministry source says 15 civilians killed
  • U.S. military says it killed 49 "criminals"
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki met Sunday with the top U.S. military commander in Iraq to voice his outrage over the reported deaths of Iraqi civilians during a Sunday morning military raid in Baghdad's Sadr City, a government spokesman told CNN.

Al-Maliki expressed his concerns to Gen. David Petraeus over Iraqi reports that 10 to 15 civilians were killed in the raid, spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told CNN's "Late Edition."

The U.S. military said its ground forces are "unaware" of civilian deaths in the early morning raid that it said left 49 "criminals" dead.

"There is a great tension in the Iraqi government" over the incident, al-Dabbagh said.

During Sunday's meeting, he said al-Maliki "clearly mentioned that this excessive force ... by the Multi-National Forces used against civilians [is] not creating a good atmosphere."

An Iraqi Interior Ministry source told CNN that 15 civilians were killed -- all men -- and 52 other civilians were wounded, including women and children.

Sadr City's mayor, Hassan Adhab, told Iraqi state TV there were 10 "martyrs" -- including a mother and her three children -- and 42 others were wounded.

Coalition forces were targeting a man they said was a leader in an Iranian-funded kidnapping operation. U.S. military spokeswoman Sgt. Nicole Dykstra told CNN the target was "neither apprehended nor killed."

Adhab described a bloody scene, saying dozens of sheep were killed in the melee, and military aircraft still hovered over the neighborhood hours after the raid.

He blamed American forces for targeting cars carrying people who were heading to work early Sunday.

"We call upon Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to stop such immoral acts in Sadr City," Adhab said.

When asked about the Sadr City raid, the spokesman for the Baghdad Security Plan said Iraqi forces take every measure to avoid civilian casualties.

"If there are innocent civilian casualties in Sadr City or anywhere else -- then that is unfortunate," Brig. Gen. Qassim Atta said. "We hope both the Multi-National Forces and the Iraqi Security Forces demonstrate military restraint and respect human rights."

U.S.-Iraq relations have been strained since a September 16 shooting incident in Baghdad that left 17 civilians dead. Some in Iraq have accused Blackwater USA security contractors, whose guards are assigned to State Department officials, for indiscriminately killing the civilians. The incident is still under investigation.

Sadr City raid

The U.S. military said the joint ground forces were fired upon as they were clearing several buildings in the "target area."

"Supporting aircraft was called in to suppress the enemy fire, killing an estimated six criminals," a military news release stated.

"The operation's objective was an individual reported to be a longtime Special Groups member specializing in kidnapping operations," the military said. "Intelligence indicates he is a well-known cell leader and has previously sought funding from Iran to carry out high profile kidnappings."

The military said its forces were hit by a roadside bomb as they left the area, but the blast did not cause any casualties among coalition forces.

The Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman said many cars and many homes were damaged in the battle.

The ministry spokesman said the firefight took place between 1:30 a.m. (6:30 p.m. ET) and 6 a.m. (11 p.m. ET) in Sadr City, a densely populated Shiite slum where there is much grass-roots support for Iran and anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

"Special Groups are Shiite extremist militant groups trained, funded and supplied primarily by Iran through the Islamic Revolutionary Guards -- Quds Force," said U.S. Army Lt. Justin Cole.

"Special Groups have evolved over the past three years into insurgent elements using a cellular structure and operating independently."

"Special Groups operate throughout Iraq," Cole said. "They plan and execute bombings, kidnappings, sectarian murders and more against Iraqi citizens, Iraqi forces and coalition personnel." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Jomana Karadsheh, Mohammed Jamjoom and Jennifer Deaton in Baghdad contributed to this report.

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