Hundreds of U.S. soldiers entered the Shiite stronghold of Sadr City on Sunday in the first major push into the area since an American-led security sweep began last month around Baghdad.
Soldiers conducted house-to-house searches through the densely populated grid of squat two- and three-story buildings, but met no resistance in a district firmly in the hands of the Mahdi Army militia led by the radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, said Lt. Col. David Oclander.
“The indication that we are getting is a lot of the really bad folks have gone into hiding,”
The Mahdi Army’s cooperation is essential to keep the plan from derailing, but al-Sadr has complained about the heavy U.S. role in the raids and its inability to stop car bombs and other attacks blamed on Sunni insurgent groups.
Separately, U.S. troops raided a mosque in Baghdad and captured three suspected insurgents hiding inside. The detainees included a man believed to be responsible for distributing weapons to build bombs for attacks on American and Iraqi forces, the military said.
U.S. rules of engagement allow troops to enter mosques only in rare cases.