US missile hits near Baghdad hospital
Two dozen hurt as troops strike militant center
BAGHDAD - The US military fired guided missiles into the heart of Baghdad's teeming Sadr City slum yesterday, leveling a building 55 yards away from a hospital and wounding nearly two dozen people.
Separately, the military said late yesterday that four Marines were killed on Thursday by a roadside bomb in Anbar Province. No other details were released, and the names of the Marines were withheld pending notification of their families.
The strike in Sadr City, made from a ground launcher, took out a militant command-control center, the US military said. The center was in the heart of the 8-square-mile neighborhood that is home to about 2.5 million people. Iraqi officials said at least 23 people were wounded, none of them patients in the hospital.
The military blamed the militants for using Iraqi civilians as human shields. "This is a circumstance where these criminal groups are operating directly out of civilian neighborhoods," said Specialist Megan Burmeister, a military spokeswoman.
She said it presents a "complex and very difficult" challenge for US forces to strike the militants when they are "putting themselves next to municipal buildings."
Dr. Ali Bustan al-Fartusee, director general of Baghdad's health directorate, said 23 civilians were wounded in the strike.
He said no patients in the hospital were hurt, but that some of the wounded included civilians outside on their way to visit patients. He also said 17 ambulances were damaged or destroyed.
About 100 people milled about in the rubble of the destroyed building after the attack. The missile left a deep crater yards from the hospital, which is surrounded by 15-foot-tall concrete blast walls. It appeared that one section of the blast wall was leveled.
Windows were blown out of cars in the hospital's parking lot, but there did not appear to be any damage to the hospital itself.
Shi'ite extremists are known to have operated in a building next to the hospital, local reporters said.
US and Iraqi forces have waged street battles with Shi'ite militias since late March in Sadr City, the power base of radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia.
The fighting is part of a five-week-old crackdown by the Iraqi government and US forces on Shi'ite militia factions. The clashes have brought deep rifts among Iraq's Shi'ite majority and have pulled US troops into difficult urban combat.
A five-member Iraqi delegation returned from Tehran yesterday from a meeting aimed at halting suspected Iranian aid to militiamen.
Ranking deputy Khalid al-Attiyah said the Iranian government had expressed its readiness to assist the Iraqi government against the extremists and "in its security measures." He did not elaborate.
Last week, Iraqi officials alleged that Iranian-made weapons, including some manufactured in 2008, had been found in the southern city of Basra in the wake of recent clashes between Shi'ite militiamen and Iraqi and US security forces.
Iraqi militia members have been blamed for firing hundreds of rockets or mortar shells from Sadr City into the Green Zone, the US-protected area housing the American embassy and much of the Iraqi government. In the past month, more than a dozen people - including two American civilians and two US soldiers - have been killed inside the zone during the attacks.
In response to the shelling, American and Iraqi troops in recent weeks have moved into Sadr City, hoping to push the militants far enough from the Green Zone so their rockets and mortars would be out of range.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shi'ite, shows no indication of easing the pressure on militia groups, including the powerful Mahdi Army led by Sadr. Maliki has been seeking to increase leverage on Iran, which is accused of training and arming some Shi'ite militia groups. Iran denies the claims.
During clashes over the past two days in Sadr City, at least 100 people have been killed, Iraqi health officials said.
The US military also said yesterday that a US soldier died of wounds sustained in a roadside bomb that struck the soldier's vehicle during a combat patrol in eastern Baghdad the day before.