United States helicopter shoots rockets into Baghdad's Sadr City

A United States helicopter fired rockets into a crowded Shiite neighborhood of eastern Baghdad on Thursday, killing a young woman, after the aircraft was fired on, the U.S. command said. The military also said five U.S. troops died in separate attacks. A roadside bomb blast killed three U.S. soldiers south of Baghdad on Wednesday, while a fourth soldier died the same day from wounds sustained in a small-arms fire attack in the capital's southwest, the military said. A U.S. Marine was fatally wounded Wednesday during combat near the western city of Fallujah.

The deaths were the first of U.S. personnel reported since Jan. 28 and took the total of U.S. military deaths to 2,247 since the Iraq war began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

Thursday's early morning attack in the vast eastern Baghdad area of Sadr City damaged several houses and cars and both residents and Shiite politicians, who condemned the U.S. attack as reckless and provocative.

The U.S. military said the exchange of fire took place at about 1 a.m. as U.S. troops were pursuing a "known terrorist associated with Ansar al-Sunnah," a Sunni militant group that has claimed responsibility for numerous suicide attacks and beheadings. "As troops were leaving the area in a U.S. military helicopter, men on a nearby rooftop began firing at the aircraft," said military spokesman Sgt. Stacy Simon. "The helicopter returned fire with guns and rockets."

The military had no details on casualties, but Sadr City resident Abdul-Hussein Shanoof said his 20-year-old daughter, housewife Ikhlas Abdul-Hussein, was killed. Shanoof was also wounded, along with another woman and a 2-year-old child.

Footage showed Shanoof's house with a large hole that had been blasted through his roof and rubble scattered inside.

"At night the aircraft bombed this and that house. One girl died.

The aircraft remained bombing us until morning," a Sadr City resident, who declined to identify himself, told Associated Press Television News.

U.S. soldiers detained two unidentified people before the attack inside Sadr City, the power base of radical anti-U.S. Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The area was the scene of fierce clashes between Shiite militiamen and American forces in 2004 through to early 2005.

But American forces have been recently holding up the neighborhood as a model of improving relations between the U.S. military and the Iraqi community.

Transport Minister Salam al-Maliki, an al-Sadr supporter, condemned the U.S. attack and demanded compensation for victims.

"These military operations aim at weakening the supporters of the Sadrist movement, are considered provocative and represent a clear violation against the security situation in the country," al-Maliki told The Associated Press in the southern city of Basra.

In Baghdad, another Sadr supporter, Shiite lawmaker Falah Hassan Shanshal, accused the U.S. of trying to "draw the Sadr movement into a new fight to affect our participation in the political process."

"The occupation is trying to shake the United Iraqi Alliance after their successful election results," said lawmaker Bahaa al-din al-Araji, another al-Sadr supporter and senior member of the alliance, the major Shiite bloc that fared best in the Dec. 15 parliamentary polls.

Shiites dominate the outgoing government and are sure to play the major role in the next one since a coalition of religious Shiite parties won the largest bloc of seats in the Dec. 15 elections.

The attack came as neither Saddam nor any of his seven co-defendants attended Thursday's session of the trial in protest of the new chief judge chairing the hearings. The eight are being accused of involvement in the 1982 killings of more than 140 Shiite Muslims in Dujail, north of Baghdad. The session lasted just under two hours and the trial was adjourned until Feb. 13.

Saddam's defense team want judge Raouf Abdel-Rahman to step down after accusing him of having a "personal feud" with the ex-president because the judge was born in Halabja, a Kurdish village hit by a poison gas attack allegedly ordered by Saddam in 1988. Some 5,000 Kurds were killed, including several of Abdel-Rahman's relatives. U.S. and Iraqi authorities had hoped the Saddam trial would proceed smoothly and lead to a calming of Iraq's rampant insurgency, which is fanned in the main by loyalists of the former president, Sunni Arab militants and opponents of the U.S.-led military presence.

But the violence continued Thursday with two roadside bomb blasts targeting an American patrol and damaging two Humvees in Tarmiyah, 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of Baghdad, said police Lt. Ali al-Bayati. The U.S. military said there were no American casualties.

Another roadside bomb blast killed three Iraqi Army soldiers in eastern Baghdad's Ghazaliyah neighborhood, said army Maj. Moussa Abdul Karim. Insurgents fired three mortar rounds at the Oil Concentrating Complex, 45 kilometers (30 miles) west of Kirkuk, triggering a fire but causing no casualties, police Capt. Farhad Talabani said. The plant is used for cleaning and processing crude oil, processing about 150,000 barrels of the crude oil a day from the northern oil fields before shipment to refineries, the Northern Oil Company said. U.S. troops sealed off the site as firefighters struggled to extinguish the blaze. Oil Ministry spokesman Assem Jihad confirmed the attack, but said work at complex had stopped about a week ago following an earlier attack of the main pipeline that feeds crude oil from the northern oil fields, reports the AP.


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