U.S. and Iraqi forces launched a series of raids Tuesday on Ramadi (search) mosques and detained a prominent cleric following fierce clashes that hospital officials said killed at least four people.
The seven targeted mosques are suspected of supporting insurgents through a range of activities, including harboring terrorists, storing illegal weapons caches, promoting violence and encouraging insurgent recruitment, the U.S. command said.
"The use of mosques as a safe haven by insurgents takes advantage of Multi-National Force-Iraq's respect for holy sites," a military statement said. "Mosques are granted protective status unless they are being used for militant purposes. At that time, they lose their protective status."
The participation of American Marines and soldiers in the raids was limited to supporting Iraqi security forces, said Brig. Gen. Joseph Dunford, assistant division commander of the 1st Marine Division.
Angry residents accused U.S. forces of breaking down doors and disrupting furniture inside the mosques. U.S. command said great care was used to avoid risks to noncombatants and collateral damage.
The raids followed two days of clashes in the city, a Sunni militant stronghold 70 miles west of Baghdad. Insurgents fired two mortars at the city hall and neighboring police directorate Monday night, sparking gunfire and rocket-propelled grenade exchanges, residents said.
Loud explosions shook the city.
Three policemen and a civilian were killed, said Dr. Dhia Abdul-Kari, at the city hospital.