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Iraqi troops enter Sadr City

BAGHDAD — About 10,000 Iraqi troops fanned out in Baghdad's Sadr City on Tuesday, taking positions on main roads, rooftops and near hospitals in an attempt to establish government control in the Shiite militia enclave.

Success relies on whether a truce holds with fighters loyal to anti-U.S. Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

No U.S. troops accompanied the Iraqi forces. The agreement reached May 9 specifically barred Americans from entering the Shiite Muslim enclave.

In a symbolic gesture, representatives of Sadr and a group of tribal sheiks met the Iraqi forces with a copy of the Koran, the Islamic holy book, to welcome their presence into the city.

The move, code-named "Operation Peace," is the latest by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to impose government authority in areas controlled by armed groups. Sadr City is home to more than 2-million residents and until Tuesday had not been under government control since Saddam Hussein was overthrown in 2003.

Sadr City was the scene of sharp clashes pitting U.S. troops and Iraqi government forces against Sadr's Mahdi Army militia for nearly two months. Hundreds of people were killed in the clashes, including scores of civilians caught in the crossfire. Hundreds more were wounded.

"The situation now is very quiet in Sadr City. You can find the Iraqi army in the streets," said Nima Abu Zahra, a spokesman for Sadr in Sadr City. "So far, there's no problem. The Iraqi forces are welcome."

Zahra said two sectors of the city were searched; there was no information on what the troops found.

The agreement allows Iraqi security forces to enter Sadr City and arrest anyone found with heavy weapons. It requires that Mahdi Army followers not be arrested without warrants unless they are in the possession of heavy arms.

"This is entirely an Iraqi-led, planned and executed operation," said Lt. Col. Steve Stover, the U.S. military spokesman for Baghdad operations.

Stover said the latest action was a high point for Iraqi security forces and the Iraqi government.

"It shows they are committed to unifying their country, ridding their country of criminal and terrorist elements and they're taking decisive action," Stover said.

Residents said Sadr City had returned to relative normality. Weeks of violence had kept residents inside or forced them to flee. On Tuesday, people were in the streets and shopping, and schools were open.

"With the presence of the Iraqi army we can say the situation is more stable," said Waleed Hassen, 38.

Several residents commended the presence of Iraqi forces and were happy U.S. troops were not in the area.

"Iraqi soldiers are smiling and saying hi to everybody," said Hamza Sadri, 23. "Our children love the Iraqi soldiers because the children know these soldiers belong to Iraq, not to America."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Joint Chiefs chairman says Iran jeopardizing peace

Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee on Tuesday that "irresponsible actions" by Iran's Revolutionary Guard are jeopardizing any potential for peace in Iraq, prompting fresh calls from senators that the U.S. pursue diplomatic talks with Tehran. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., a member of the panel, said he is most concerned about the Bush administration's refusal to fully engage Iran in diplomatic discussions.

Bush apologizes to Maliki: President Bush apologized to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Monday for an American sniper's use of a copy of the Koran for target practice, a statement from Maliki's office in Baghdad said Tuesday. White House press secretary Dana Perino said Bush "apologized for that in the sense that he said that we take it very seriously. … We are concerned about the reaction. We wanted them to know that the president knew that this was wrong."

Aziz trial resumes: Tariq Aziz, left, one of Saddam Hussein's best-known lieutenants and the only Christian in Hussein's mostly Sunni Muslim regime, accused the Shiite-led Iraqi government of seeking revenge during a trial Tuesday over the executions of dozens of Baghdad merchants in 1992. Chief prosecutor Adnan Ali said Aziz and his co-defendants were responsible for the merchants' deaths.

Times wires

Iraqi troops enter Sadr City 05/20/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 3, 2010 12:02pm]
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