Baghdad, March 27 (Reuters): Iraq’s ruling Shia Islamist Alliance bloc demanded today that US forces return control of security to the Iraqi government after what it called “cold-blooded” killings of unarmed people by troops in a mosque.
Yesterday, US troops raided a Shia mosque in the Shaab district of east Baghdad sparking fierce clashes with militiamen of the Mehdi Army loyal to radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Police sources said 20 Mehdi Army fighters were killed in the fighting, close to Sadr’s stronghold in the Sadr City slum.
“The Alliance calls for a rapid restoration of (control of) security matters to the Iraqi government,” Jawad al-Maliki, a senior Alliance spokesman and ally of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, said.
In angry tones, Khudair al-Khuzaie, another Alliance official, described the deaths at the Mustafa Shia mosque in Baghdad last evening as a “cold-blooded” killing.
Earlier, Iraq’s minister of state for national security gave a death toll of 37, much higher than the 20 quoted by police, and renewed allegations that US and Iraqi troops tied up worshippers and others in the mosque complex and shot them.
At the news conference, Rida Jawad al-Takki, another Alliance official, said: “We have said so often that the American forces have been committing great mistakes on security issues and Iraqis should deal with these.”
He said the operation was carried out by Iraqi forces that were under US control and not accountable to the government. The U.S. military’s version of events is that Iraqi special forces, advised by Americans, raided a building which was not a mosque and killed 16 “insurgents” after coming under fire.
The military has issued a statement on the incident but has not addressed the allegations by Shia leaders in detail.
The US returned formal sovereignty to Iraq in June 2004 but with 133,000 troops in the country remains in overall control of security. While major military operations are coordinated with the Iraqi government, US forces have considerable freedom of manoeuvre at a more local level.
At least 30 people were killed in a bomb blast inside a joint US-Iraq base in Mosul today, police said.
An interior ministry source said the explosion targeted Iraqi army recruits and may have been carried out by a suicide bomber strapped with explosives.