BAGHDAD — For the second time in less than a week, U.S. forces were drawn into deadly fighting against insurgents on Wednesday — a reminder of the dangers troops face well after President Barack Obama declared a formal end to combat.
With a persistent insurgency, ongoing sectarian tensions and no agreement on a new government after six months of wrangling, stabilizing Iraq before all American forces leave still seems a distant dream.
The raid, in which at least six people were killed, was in the former insurgent stronghold of Fallujah. Details were murky. U.S. officials described it as an Iraq-led mission targeting al-Qaida-linked militants with Americans in an advisory capacity. Officials in Anbar province railed against the raid, calling it a heavy-handed attack that left civilians dead.
American troops were helping Iraqi forces hunt down a senior al-Qaida operative when militants opened fire on Iraqi security forces as they and the U.S. soldiers were approaching a building in which the suspect was hiding, said U.S. Maj. Rob Phillips. He said Iraqi forces killed four suspected militants as well as two residents in nearby houses who came out of their homes with weapons drawn.
Officials in Fallujah and Anbar province portrayed the raid in a different light. The city's Municipal Council criticized the raid and said seven civilians were killed, "including old men and children."
The incident in Fallujah follows a battle in Diyala province on Sunday in which U.S. troops helped Iraqi security forces battle suspected al-Qaida militants for two days.
In other violence Wednesday, nine Iraqi soldiers and two police officers were killed by insurgents.