Attack on Sadr City Official Creates Tension

An attack against the top Sadr City official has created tension in the ranks of Shiite militiamen with some blaming a faction unhappy about cooperation with Americans, a local commander said Friday.

Gunmen opened fire on the convoy carrying Rahim al-Darraji Thursday in eastern Baghdad, seriously wounding him and killing two of his bodyguards on Thursday, police and a local official said.

Al-Darraji was the principal negotiator in talks with U.S. officials that led to an agreement to pull fighters off the streets in Sadr City, a stronghold of the feared Mahdi Army, and a local commander said suspicion fell on a group of disaffected militiamen who are angry about the deal.

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"This is a faction that enjoys some weight," the Mahdi Army commander said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

He said the attack has created tension within the ranks of the militia and renewed a debate on the merits of allowing the Americans to operate in Sadr City without resistance during a security sweep aimed at ending the sectarian violence that has raged since a Feb. 22, 2006, bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra.

The success in reining in the militia of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, which fought fiercely against U.S. forces in 2004, is widely credited with the drop in execution-style killings, random shootings and rocket attacks during the month-old operation, and the attack against al-Darraji cast a shadow on that strategy.

Al-Sadr supporters also planned a demonstration Friday after traditional weekly prayer services to protest the establishment of a joint U.S.-Iraqi base in Sadr City, a sprawling district in eastern Baghdad.

Four U.S. soldiers, meanwhile, were killed in a roadside bombing in mainly Shiite eastern Baghdad and the military said it found a sophisticated weapon at the site that was not detonated but was of the type that Washington believes is being supplied by Iran to Shiite militias.

Two more American troops were reported killed on Friday — a U.S. soldier in an explosion Thursday in the volatile Sunni province of Salahuddin, northwest of Baghdad, and a Marine who died in a non-combat incident Wednesday in Anbar province west of the capital.

At least 74 Americans have been killed in fighting since the U.S.-Iraqi security sweep to stop the sectarian violence in Baghdad began on Feb. 14 — most in Baghdad or volatile areas north of the capital and to the west in the Sunni insurgent stronghold of Anbar province.

U.S. Maj. Gen. Joseph F. Fil Jr., who is on his second tour of Iraq, acknowledged Thursday that the security crackdown was putting U.S. troops at greater risk in the capital simply because they were in the streets in greater numbers.

Fil also said the United States would have American soldiers in as many as 100 garrisons scattered throughout Baghdad by the time the last of the additional 20,000-plus troops allocated by U.S. President George W. Bush arrive at the end of May. There are now 77 such posts, he said.

The bases will be a combination of Joint Security Stations — command and control centers operated jointly with Iraqis — and small combat outposts.

In northern Iraq, traffic stopped and people stood still in the streets despite rain for a period of silence in Sulaimaniyah and other Kurdish cities to commemorate the anniversary of a 1988 chemical weapons attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja that killed an estimated 5,600 people and left many still suffering the aftereffects of nerve and mustard gas.

Hundreds of victims' relatives and local officials gathered in the city hall in Halabja, 150 miles northeast of Baghdad, and lit 19 candles to symbolize the 19 years since the massacre took place.

Saddam Hussein had ordered the attack as part of a scorched-earth campaign to crush a Kurdish rebellion in the north, seen as aiding the Iranian enemy, although the ousted leader was executed on other crimes against humanity before he could face trial for Halabja.

"Each year on this day, I remember the vicious attack carried out by Saddam against the peaceful city," Tuba Abid, 53, who lost 22 relative in the attack, said as she laid roses on a victims' monument in Halabja. "The execution of Saddam has reduced my pains and I feel more secure after the death of this dictator."

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had planned to attend the ceremony, but his plane was unable to land at the airport and was forced to return to Baghdad because of the bad weather, Kurdish officials said.

In other violence Friday, according to officials:

• Gunmen killed a member of the governmental facilities protection service in Suwayrah, 25 miles south of Baghdad.

• A police patrol in the northern city of Kirkuk struck a roadside bomb, then was ambushed by gunmen. Two policemen were killed and three civilians wounded.

• A mortar attack against a Sunni mosque in the southeastern Baghdad neighborhood of Zafaraniyah killed one civilian and wounded two others.

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