Iraq: mosque raid sparks Baghdad battle

A fierce battle in the Sunni-dominated Fadhil and Sheikh Omar neighborhoods of central Baghdad April 10 left four Iraqi soldiers dead, 16 US soldiers wounded and a US helicopter damaged by ground fire. In the midst of the battle, a rocket slammed into a schoolyard basketball court, killing a six-year-old boy. The Association of Muslim Scholars issued a statement quoting witnesses as saying that the battle began after Iraqi government troops entered a mosque and executed two young men in front of other worshipers.

In a separate incident, in the mostly Sunni city of Muqdadiyah, Diyala province, a woman with a suicide vest strapped beneath her robe blew herself up in the midst of 200 police recruits, killing 16 men waiting to learn if they had been hired.

By the day’s end, at least 52 people were killed or found dead nationwide.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, on a tour of East Asia, rejected an immediate US troop withdrawal, as called for April 9 by a huge demonstration in the holy cities of Kufa and Najaf. “We see no need for a withdrawal timetable. We are working as fast as we can,” he said on his four-day stop in Japan, where he signed loan agreements for redevelopment projects in Iraq.

Al-Maliki said: “To demand the departure of the troops is a democratic right and a right we respect.” But: “What governs the departure at the end of the day is how confident we are in the handover process.” (AlJazeera, April 11)

See our last posts on Iraq, the sectarian cleansing and a recent glimmer of hope.