BAGHDAD – Iraq's prime minister denounced a deadly U.S. raid on Sunday as a "crime" that violated the security pact with Washington and demanded American commanders hand over those responsible to face possible trial in Iraqi courts.
The U.S. military, however, strongly denied that it overstepped its bounds and said it notified Iraqi authorities in advance — in accordance with the rules that took effect this year governing U.S. battlefield conduct.
The pre-dawn raid in the southern Shiite city of Kut ended with at least one woman dead after being caught in gunfire and six suspects arrested for alleged links to Shiite militia factions.
But efforts were quickly launched in an attempt to tone down the dispute.
The six detainees were released, said Major Gen. Read Shakir Jawdat, head of the provincial police that includes Kut. At the same news conference, U.S. Col. Richard Francey offered condolences to the family of the woman killed.
The fallout marks the most serious test of the security pact so far and could bring new strains during a critical transition period.
U.S. forces plan to move out of most major Iraqi cities by the end of June in the first phase of a promised withdrawal from the country by the end of 2011.
A statement from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki — in his role as commander general of Iraqi forces — called the raid a "violation of the security pact."
He asked the U.S. military "to release the detainees and hand over those responsible for this crime to the courts," according to an Iraqi security official who read the statement to The Associated Press.
Elsewhere in Iraq, gunmen stormed two Christian homes in separate attacks in the ethnically diverse city of Kirkuk, killing at least two Chaldean Christians and one Assyrian, said police Brig. Burham Taib.
The northern city is a fault line between the majority Kurds and Arabs, but also includes ethnic Turks and various Christian groups. A U.N. report given to Iraqi leaders last week recommends giving Kirkuk a "special status" with oversight by both the Kurd region and the central government in Baghdad.
In Kut, the cascade of protests and questions began just hours after the sweep into Kut, which the U.S. military said targeted suspected backers of Shiite militias believed to have links to Iran.
Hundreds of demonstrators gathered at the mosque in Kut, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) southeast of Baghdad, to decry the American action and demand an investigation.
The provincial council then called an emergency meeting and a three-day mourning period. The Iraqi Defense Ministry also ordered the arrest of two high-ranking Iraqi officers for their alleged roles in allowing U.S. forces to operate in Kut.
"We condemn this crime," said Mahmoud al-Etaibi, head of the council.
Iraq's military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, described it as the "first violation after signing the security pact."
The U.S. military said its troops acted within the framework of the security pact, saying "the operation was fully coordinated and approved by the Iraqi government."
The accord, which took effect Jan. 1, requires American commanders to coordinate raids and other pre-planned strikes with the Iraqi government and military, or work in joint U.S.-Iraq units.
At least one person died in the raid, which the U.S. military said targeted the financier of Shiite militia factions believed to be backed by the Iranians. Iraqi officials placed the death toll at two.
The Defense Ministry spokesman, Mohammed al-Askari, said an Iraqi brigade commander and a battalion commander were arrested for "allowing American troops to conduct a military operation in Kut province without informing the Iraqi government or coordinating with it."
Kut provincial police chief, Brig. Gen. Raed Shakir Jawdat, said he was unaware a raid was conducted. The U.S. military did not provide information on whether Iraqi security forces took part.
The military said a woman was in the area during an exchange of gunfire with one of the suspects and "stepped into the line of fire."
It said those detained were suspected of aiding so-called "special groups" — Shiite militia factions that were once part of the Mahdi Army of anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr — and another faction known as the Promise Day Brigades created by al-Sadr.
Washington says the special groups are backed by Iran. Tehran denies the charges.
Iraqi police officials say the wife and brother of a local clan leader were killed. They also say the soldiers arrested the clan leader, Ahmed Abdul Muneim al-Bdeir, his brother — an Iraqi police captain — and five others related to the al-Bdeir.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to release the information.