BAGHDAD (Reuters) – U.S. bombers flattened the Baghdad offices of radical Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on Monday in a dramatic new show of force against his uprising.
A Marine armored column pushed through the Sunni Muslim town of Falluja for the first time in more than a month to prove that a shaky truce with local guerrillas was holding.
But the killings of a South African and a New Zealand engineer in the northern oilfields and a bomb that shut off oil exports from the south, struck at U.S. efforts to impose stability ahead of next month’s handover of power to Iraqis.
Responding to what appears to be the main military threat at present, U.S. aircraft bombed Sadr’s offices in the restive Baghdad slum of Sadr City overnight, witnesses said.
A huge orange burst of flame rose high in the air.
At least one bomb fell on the single-storey building around 2 a.m. (2200 GMT Sunday) and virtually destroyed it. There was no immediate comment from the U.S. military, which reported 19 members of Sadr’s Medhi Army militia were killed in a series of clashes in the impoverished Shi’ite neighborhood on Sunday.
U.S. forces had raided the Sadr City office in the early hours of Sunday and arrested two people, one of them said to be a Mehdi Army financier, U.S. military spokesmen said.
The raid was part of a stepped up military campaign against an uprising launched by the Shi’ite cleric against U.S.-led forces a month ago. Sadr has taken refuge in the Shi’ite holy city of Najaf, south of the capital, with thousands of men.
U.S. forces, spurred on by mounting irritation with Sadr among elder Shi’ite leaders, have squeezed the outskirts of Najaf. With British forces around Basra, they have been taking back key positions like police stations in a string of towns across Shi’ite southern Iraq. An armored U.S. column rolled again into the center of the holy city of Kerbala on Monday.