BAGHDAD — U.S. officials said Wednesday that a military campaign in the stronghold of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has succeeded in nearly eliminating the deadly rocket and mortar attacks launched from the area.
U.S. and Iraqi forces have been battling for weeks in the capital's Sadr City neighborhood against Shiite fighters tied to Sadr's Mahdi Army militia. The U.S. military said at least 142 suspected militant fighters have been killed, including at least 15 Tuesday night.
American officials said the mission in Sadr City was to stop attacks on the heavily fortified Green Zone, the center of U.S. military and Iraqi government operations here. The barrages had risen sharply since Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki launched a campaign against Shiite fighters last month in the southern city of Basra.
"We accomplished what we were trying to do, which was to stop the indirect fire," said Col. Allen Batschelet, chief of staff for Multinational Division-Baghdad.
At least 697 rockets and mortar rounds have been fired since March 23, mostly from Sadr City, according to U.S. military statistics. The data showed that 292 struck U.S.-led coalition forces, 291 hit Iraqi neighborhoods and 114 fell in the Green Zone.
At the Baghdad division's headquarters at Camp Liberty, U.S. officials emphasized the distinction they see between members of Sadr's Mahdi Army (known in Arabic as Jaish al-Mahdi, or JAM in military parlance) and those who have split from the group, which the military calls "special groups" and "criminals."
According to U.S. military briefing materials, members of the Mahdi Army are obeying a cease-fire declared by Sadr last summer and are working to "avoid future escalations of violence."
Members of the "special groups/criminals" are not adhering to the freeze and account for 73 percent of the attacks that kill or wound U.S. soldiers in Baghdad.
On another front Wednesday, an Arab satellite news channel reported that a man suspected of being Izzat Ibrahim Douri, a former official in the Saddam Hussein regime who tops Iraq's most-wanted list, was captured by Iraqi soldiers in the northern part of the country.
The Al-Arabiya channel said the suspect was caught during a raid in the Hamrin Mountains.