BAGHDAD (AFP) — American and Iraqi forces building a wall in Sadr City have no plans to besiege the east Baghdad Shiite bastion where they have been battling militiamen for weeks, a US general said on Thursday.
"Our purpose is to secure only the southern part of Sadr City, to prevent rockets being fired towards the Green Zone from the area," Major General Jeffery Hammond, commander of US forces in Baghdad, told a news conference.
His comments came amid angry demands in parliament by members of the political bloc of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose militiamen dominate Sadr City, that the "siege" of the area be lifted.
"People are dying every day because of the siege. Parliament must oppose the operation and call for it to be halted immediately," MP Falah Shanshal told the assembly.
Hammond said the aim of military operations was to prevent "criminals and terrorists" firing rockets and mortars.
He gave the assurance that the wall would be limited to the southern sector, about a third of the impoverished district, which he said was the source of the rocket fire.
"We have no plans to go further," Hammond said.
Work on the barrier of varying height, which is being raised along the main road separating the southern and northern sides of the sprawling district of some two million people, began on April 15.
US commanders said this week that almost 700 rockets and mortar rounds were fired in Baghdad in the past month -- 114 of them hitting the highly fortified Green Zone where the Iraqi government and US embassy are based.
They said 82 percent of the rockets and mortar bombs that hit the zone came from Sadr City.
General Abud Qanbar Hashim, Iraqi commander of Baghdad Operations Command, also denied that Iraqi troops have laid siege to Sadr City.
"Sadr city is not under siege," he told the joint news conference with Hammond. "There is a checkpoint, but it is wrong to say that the Iraqi army is besieging the city."
"Since March 25, criminal groups have killed 82 people and wounded 476 in Baghdad by their mortars and other munitions," he said.
"We have made security walls before in Adhamiyah, Ghazaliyah, Dora," he said, referring to Baghdad districts where sectarian violence was quelled with the help of such barriers.
"We need this wall in Sadr City to secure the population. We are determined to complete our victory against these groups of criminals. Our aim is to secure all of Baghdad."
Meanwhile the US military on Thursday reported that three militiamen who attacked a US patrol in northeast Baghdad were killed by a Hellfire missile fired by an "aerial weapons team."
It also reported that another three people were killed by Hellfire missiles fired by warplanes in northeast Baghdad late on Wednesday.
The three had been laying roadside bombs in two separate incidents when they were targeted, the military said.
The latest deaths bring to at least 372 the number of people killed in Shiite areas of east Baghdad since fighting broke out late March, according to an AFP tally based on reports by Iraqi and US officials.
The US military has lost 15 soldiers in Baghdad since the clashes broke out.
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