Thursday, October 26, 2006

P.M.: Iraqi death squad leader escapes raid; Maliki now says he knew of raid prior but not extent

A house damaged by U.S. air strike in yesterday's raid.

BAGHDAD, Oct 26 (Reuters) - Iraq's most notorious death squad leader escaped a major U.S.-led raid on a Shi'ite Muslim militia stronghold in Baghdad, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said on Thursday.

In an interview with Reuters, Maliki said Wednesday's ground and air assault on the sprawling Sadr City slum targeted Abu Deraa, a feared warlord held responsible for a rash of brutal sectarian killings and kidnappings of Iraqi Sunnis.

The operation, carried out by Iraqi special forces with U.S. advisers and air support, killed 10 "enemy fighters", according to a U.S. military statement.

Maliki said he backed the raid but complained that it was conducted in a heavy handed way that could wreck a political deal he had worked on with Moqtada al-Sadr, a radical anti- American cleric who controls the Mehdi Army Shi'ite militia.

"I said we agree on arresting wanted criminals and we do not care whether they are Sunnis or Shi'ites, but that was not an arrest operation," said Maliki, who is himself a Shi'ite.

"Do you send in planes to arrest one person?" he asked.

Maliki had appeared to disavow the raid on Wednesday, saying he had not been consulted, but he told Reuters his problem was with the way it had been combined with the hunt for an American soldier kidnapped on Monday.

"We knew about the first part but they did not tell us about the second part," Maliki said.

Deraa, sometimes dubbed "The Shi'ite Zarqawi" after slain al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi, is said by U.S. officials to be a renegade Mehdi Army member who is at odds with Sadr. He was the target of a similar raid on July 7.

"They did not arrest him in either operation," Maliki said.

A U.S. military statement late on Wednesday said Wednesday's operation led to 13 arrests, three of them carried out at a mosque in connection with Monday's abduction of the U.S soldier.

Read the rest at Reuters/Alternet

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U.S. raids Sadr City; no consultation with Prime Minister