BAGHDAD — Clashes broke out between U.S. forces and members of an Iraqi militia early today in the northeastern Baghdad slum of Sadr City when American forces sought to detain several militia members, Iraqi authorities said.
Iraqi police said representatives of the militia reported that 10 Iraqis had been killed. A U.S. military spokesman contacted early today had no information on the incident involving Al Mahdi militiamen who are loyal to Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada Sadr, a fierce critic of the U.S.
The outbreak of hostilities comes after a long period of relative calm in Sadr City. In August 2004, U.S. forces fought a series of deadly street battles with Al Mahdi fighters in the area. In wake of those clashes, though, the U.S. has poured millions of dollars in reconstruction funding into the area, which was long neglected by Saddam Hussein, and relations between U.S. forces and Iraqis have improved considerably.
But tensions between foreign forces in Iraq and Sadr loyalists have been running high in recent days, particularly in the southern city of Basra.
Clashes broke out between British forces and Basra residents last week after two British soldiers were detained by Iraqi police. British troops and tanks stormed a jail where the men had been held, apparently out of concern for their safety at the hands of Al Mahdi militiamen who are believed to control the local police.
British officials said the soldiers eventually found in a nearby home in the custody of militants.
The raid on the jail infuriated locals. A mob torched a British tank and pelted soldiers with stones.
The British military and the Iraqi government have launched investigations into Monday's events. But the local governing council has suspended cooperation with the British, demanding an apology.
On Saturday, tensions in the city continued to mount as mortar rounds were launched at the British military headquarters, and troops stepped up patrols, sending tanks through the usually peaceful streets.
The central government in Baghdad tried to quell the crisis, and Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari on Saturday sent a delegation to meet with Basra's governor and members of the local governing council.
In the meantime, however, an Iraqi judge issued arrest warrants Saturday for the two British soldiers who were freed in the British military raid.
The warrants allege that the soldiers had killed an Iraqi policeman.
Coalition forces are immune from Iraqi prosecution. About 8,500 British troops are in Basra, the second-largest city in Iraq.
In other developments Saturday, more than 1,000 residents took to Basra's streets in a peaceful demonstration to support Iraq's draft constitution, which will be put to a nationwide referendum next month. The demonstrators carried posters of Shiite leaders Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani and Abdelaziz Hakim, a politician and chanted slogans in praise of the document, which is opposed by Sunni Arabs.
"We want to tell the people that this constitution was made for their own benefit and interest, and that it is our path for freedom and independence," said 34-year-old Abdul Hasan Hadi, a demonstrator.
In Baghdad, meanwhile, two Iraqi soldiers were killed when a suicide car bomb exploded near an army checkpoint, police said.
And an American soldier was killed by a roadside bomb southeast of Baghdad, the U.S. military reported Saturday.
Early today, the corpses of four people who had been shot execution-style, were found in the capital's Shuala district, Iraqi authorities said.
Times staff writer Raheem Salman in Baghdad and a special correspondent in Basra contributed to this report.