U.S. forces intensified their military operations Tuesday in Sunni cities northwest of the capital. In Ramadi, American and Iraqi forces launched a series of raids on local mosques and arrested a prominent cleric following clashes that hospital officials said killed at least four Iraqis.
The seven targeted mosques are suspected of supporting loyalists through a range of activities, including "harboring terrorists, storing illegal weapons caches, promoting violence and encouraging insurgent recruitment", the U.S. command said.
Sheikh Abdul-Aleim Sadi, the provincial leader of the influential Association of Muslim Scholars, was detained at Mohammed Aref Mosque, his relatives and followers 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."
Angry residents accused U.S. forces of breaking down doors and disrupting furniture inside the mosques.
Late on Monday, two mortars were fired at the city hall and neighboring police directorate, sparking gunfire and rocket-propelled grenade exchanges, locals said. Three policemen and a civilian were killed, said Dr. Dhia Abdul-Kari, at the city hospital.
Elsewhere, the U.S. military has launched two air strikes on Fallujah, flattening two buildings which the military described as hideouts for Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi's group.
The first raid at 12:01 am (local time) targeted the al-Haj Hussein restaurant in central Fallujah. The U.S. military described it as as a known meeting place for Zarqawi's Tawhid and Jihad group.
"Multinational force-Iraq struck a known Zarqawi location in central Fallujah at 12:01 am October 12. Following the engagement, secondary explosions were reported, indicating the strong likelihood of weapons caches and explosive devices," the military said in a statement.
"Terrorists frequently planned operations from this location... The location had been under the terrorist organizations control for more than a year and innocent civilians knowingly stayed away."
The raid killed five people and wounded six, including two employees of the restaurant, hospital sources said.
The restaurant, located on the main road that divides Fallujah between north and south, was completely destroyed. Bulldozers were brought in to clear away debris in the hope of finding bodies.
Four hours later, U.S. aircraft struck the city again.
"At 4:02 am (0102 GMT) October 12, multinational forces conducted another successful strike in Fallujah, against the Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi terrorist network. The precision strike destroyed a known terrorist safe house in northeast Fallujah," the military said.
Additional airstrikes were reported in Hit, where a local hospital received two bodies.
In the meantime, at least 15 people were reported killed in an attack on an Iraqi National Guard outpost near the Syrian border. Residents claimed an American plane fired on the compound, but the U.S. Army denied that claim. The incident took place east of Qaim in the early hours of Tuesday as U.S. warplanes were in action over the area.
In another incident, gunmen shot and killed Abdul Majeed al-Antar, a member of the Nineveh provincial council, as he was en route to his office in Mosul, a council spokesman said, according to The AP.
Meanwhile, a videotape surfaced on the Internet Tuesday showing what was said to be the confession and beheading of a Shiite Muslim, presumably Iraqi, who was accused of serving the U.S. Army by "assassinating Sunni leaders."
The video was posted in the name of the Ansar al-Sunna Army. It showed a man, who identified himself as Al-Sayed Alaa al-Malki, kneeling in front of two masked gunmen.
Two identification cards were hanging from the man's gray shirt. One of them bore the name al-Malki and said "local sheikh."
The man spoke on ties to a Shiite group and to a former U.S. military commander in Iraq. He said he was a follower of Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. He said he "had close relationship with the Sadr army ... and relations with political leaders such as the (Lt. Gen. Ricardo) Sanchez."
Then, he was shown with his face covered with a white sheet and his head being cut off.
According to The AP, in the video the man also confessed to working with an American military officer named Paul. (Albawaba.com)
© 2004 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)