BAGHDAD - U.S. forces backed by airstrikes raided Sadr City, Baghdad's main Shiite district, killing 49 militants on Sunday as they targeted a militia leader accused in high-profile kidnappings, the military said. Iraqi officials said at least 13 people were killed, including women and children.
The statements by Iraqi police, hospital officials and witnesses were the latest claims of civilian deaths as a result of U.S. military action and recent shootings by private Western security teams protecting American diplomats and aid groups. The military said ground forces were unaware of any civilians killed in the Sadr City strike.
The military said "an estimated 49 criminals" were killed in three separate engagements during a raid targeting a suspected rogue Shiite militia leader specializing in kidnapping operations for which he sought funding from Iran.
U.S. troops returned fire after coming under sustained attack from automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades from nearby buildings as they began to raid a series of buildings in the district, according to a statement, which added that some 33 militants were killed in the firefight. Ground forces then called in airstrikes, which killed some six militants.
U.S. troops were attacked by a roadside bomb and continued heavy fire as they left the area and killed an additional 10 combatants in subsequent clashes.
"All total, coalition forces estimate that 49 criminals were killed in three separate engagements during this operation. Ground forces reported they were unaware of any innocent civilians being killed as a result of this operation," the military said in the updated statement.
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