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Iraqi Forces Capture Wanted Extremist

Iraqi forces backed by U.S. aircraft battled militants Friday in a Shiite stronghold of eastern Baghdad, killing or wounding more than 30 fighters and capturing an extremist leader who was the target of the raid, Iraqi and U.S. officials said.

In another operation, Iraqi troops backed by U.S. soldiers arrested a top regional commander of a Shiite militia near the southern city of Hillah, an American statement said. The moves appeared part of a crackdown on sectarian militias blamed for the escalation in Shiite-Sunni violence that has raised fears of civil war in recent months.

The U.S. military said the raid in eastern Baghdad was launched to apprehend "an insurgent leader responsible for numerous deaths of Iraqi citizens." Iraqi troops came under fire from a rooftop, triggering a 43-minute gunbattle after which the insurgent leader was arrested. There were no U.S. or Iraqi casualties, the Americans said.

U.S. officials did not identify the insurgent. Residents of the Shiite slum Sadr City said they believed the raid targeted Abu Diraa, a commander in the Mahdi militia of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, but he apparently had escaped.

The U.S. statement said only that the insurgent was involved "in the transfer of weapons from Syria into Iraq" in an effort to break away "from his current insurgent organization." The statement made no mention of any U.S. role but residents said they could hear American aircraft providing cover during the raid.

Also, the United States said Thursday that Iraqi and American forces arrested Adnan al-Unaybi, commander of a Mahdi militia force. The statement said he was arrested north of Hillah, about 60 miles south of Baghdad.

An Iraqi officer with the army division responsible for the Baghdad area said the Americans gave them a list of people to be arrested in Sadr City. Iraqi soldiers led the raid while the Americans played a supportive role, but nobody was arrested because of the clashes, the officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

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