BAGHDAD, Iraq – U.S. forces fired tank rounds at a mosque in the restive city of Ramadi Friday and exchanged heavy fire with militants inside, the U.S. command said, as Iraqis looted a base in the south after it was vacated by British troops.
One U.S. soldier was lightly wounded and three people were reportedly killed inside the mosque, while five people were killed elsewhere in Iraq in a relatively peaceful day in the country wracked by sectarian and Sunni insurgency violence.
Militants inside the Al Qadir Al Kilami mosque fired small arms, machine guns and rocket propelled grenades at U.S. forces, a statement by the U.S. command said. They also hurled hand grenades and a bomb, it said.
American soldiers returned fire at first, and finally unleashed several rounds from M1 tanks into the mosque, said the statement. "The mosque suffered serious structural damage to the dome and minaret," it said.
It said the attack occurred at about 12.30 p.m., a little before Friday prayers were due to start. It was not known if any worshippers were already inside.
Ramadi police reported that three people were killed and 23 people were wounded, but it was not possible to independently confirm the information. The U.S. statement said enemy and civilian casualties were unknown, but one soldier was injured who later returned to duty.
Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, is the capital of Anbar province, a vast area where support for Sunni insurgency runs strong. Most American combat casualties this month have been in Anbar.
In the southern Shiite city of Amarah, scores of Iraqis Friday poured into Camp Abu Naji from where British troops had pulled out Thursday morning to redeploy along the border with Iran to crack down on weapons smuggling.
The looters took away everything from doors and window frames to corrugated roofing and metal pipes, stripping the camp — which had come under almost daily attack while under British control — to the ground, an Associated Press reporter saw.
"There are only a few soldiers at Abu Naji camp. Some of the residents were carrying weapons so they (the soldiers) did not want bloodshed and with such a big number, they cannot stop them," said Dhaffar Jabbar, spokesman for the Maysan governor's office.
One of the looters told a reporter that the goods from the camp are the "spoils of war and we are allowed to take them." He ran away without identifying himself.
Still, Iraq was quiet, as is usually the case on Fridays when vehicles are banned in Baghdad where much of the violence has occurred in recent months in the tit-for-tat attacks by Sunni and Shiite extremists, and Sunni insurgents.
Five people were killed Friday including two worshippers at a Shiite mosque in the southern city of Basra during an exchange of fire between the mosque guards and gunmen. A police officer was killed in a drive-by shooting in downtown Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad. Iraqi army soldiers reportedly shot and killed two recruits and injured 10 others outside a recruiting center in southern Kut after they threw hand grenades.
The British pullout was one of many planned in the south over coming months as U.S.-led coalition forces hand over security responsibilities to Iraqi forces and redeploy elsewhere.
Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki has said his national unity government plans to gradually take over security for all of Iraq's provinces within the next 18 months.