BAGHDAD (AFP) – Baghdad awoke Thursday to the familiar sounds of heavy fighting as US planes bombarded a suspected weapons smuggling cell in the east of the Iraqi capital and clashes were heard in the city centre.
The US military said it had killed "three armed terrorists" when troops called in an air strike to put an end to a gun battle with a gang that had allegedly smuggled deadly armour-piercing bombs into Iraq from Iran.
"During the course of the morning’s operations, coalition forces targeted a concentration of buildings associated with the terrorist network, detaining four suspected terrorists during the raids," a US statement said.
"Three Iraqi civilians were also injured during the operation."
The bombed hideout of the alleged "secret cell terrorist network" was in Sadr City, a sprawling eastern suburb of Baghdad known as a stronghold of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia.
"These raids are taking place almost every night these days. We can hardly sleep for the buzz of the planes and the shooting," said resident Karim Al-Nuri as he surveyed the damage at the site of the bombing.
Nuri and other witnesses told AFP that women and children were among those injured in the raid and alleged that up to eight people had been killed.
The military accused the cell of "facilitating the transport of weapons and explosively formed penetrators, or EFPs, from Iran to Iraq, as well as bringing militants from Iraq to Iran for terrorist training."
An EFP is a roadside bomb in which an charge of military-grade explosives detonates inside a launch tube, forcing out a white-hot slug of molten metal capable of punching a hole in the most heavily armoured vehicles.
Its use in east Baghdad has been on the rise and it has been reponsible for a good number of the US military’s daily casualties in Iraq.
Meanwhile, residents were woken by the sounds of a battle near Haifa Street, a main city thoroughfare that was once notorious as a three-way battlefield between Sunni insurgents, Shiite militia and Iraqi security forces.
For almost two hours explosions and automatic gunfire echoed among the restive district’s tall concrete buildings, but officials were not immediately able to explain what was going on.