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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 October, 2004, 11:42 GMT 12:42 UK
US and Iraqis raid Sunni centres
Falluja residents inspect rubble of popular restaurant in centre of town
Haji Hussein restaurant was reduced to a pile of rubble
US and Iraqi government forces have raided seven mosques in the insurgent stronghold of Ramadi.

They detained a prominent cleric, Sheikh Abdul Aleim Sadi, the provincial leader of the influential Association of Muslim Scholars.

The mosques were targeted for allegedly supporting rebels in a range of activities in the mainly Sunni town.

The raids followed a US air strike on a target in the restive neighbouring town of Falluja.

Two people were killed in the attack, which flattened the Haji Hussein kebab shop. US officials said the attack was targeting supporters of Abu Musab Zarqawi.

However, local residents said it had no connection with the Jordanian militant.

'Cowboy behaviour'

The pre-dawn raids on Ramadi prompted fire fights that left at least two Iraqis dead, hospital sources said.

The mosques were suspected of "harbouring known terrorists, storing illegal weapons caches, promoting violence against the Iraqi people and encouraging insurgent recruitment," a US military statement said.

The sweeps through the mosques were conducted by Iraqi forces, it added.

But residents accused US forces of breaking down doors and disrespecting the sanctity of Ramadi's mosques.

"This cowboy behaviour cannot be accepted," said cleric Abdullah Abu Omar of the Ramadi Mosque, quoted by Associated Press. "The Americans seem to have lost their senses and have gone out of control."

The US has cited several recent occasions when insurgents allegedly used the special status giving to mosques to avoid US reprisals.

On Monday, US marines said they had been fired at from a mosque in the nearby town of Hit.

They responded by calling in air strikes on the building. Two Iraqis were killed in the fighting in Hit and another 30 were wounded, reports say.

'Weapons caches'

Haji Hussein - the most popular restaurant in Falluja, Iraq's most rebellious city - was reduced to a smoking pile of rubble and twisted metal in the overnight raid.

The US military said secondary explosions were reported after the air raid "indicating the strong likelihood of weapons caches and explosive devices".

Zarqawi does not come here. Where is Zarqawi? We have not seen Zarqawi
Falluja resident

It added: "Terrorists frequently planned operations from this location."

Two civilian guards at the restaurant were killed, local witnesses said.

The US said the raid was part of its campaign against Zarqawi's group, which has claimed responsibility for some of Iraq's bloodiest bombings in the last 18 months, as well as beheading foreign hostages.

"Zarqawi does not come here. Where is Zarqawi? We have not seen Zarqawi," one man shouted from the crowd which gathered at the site.

Residents of Falluja have been holding talks with members of the US-backed interim government about a possible ceasefire in Falluja.

A major US offensive in April, which reportedly killed hundreds of people, failed to root out insurgents and left them in firm control of the city.

The US and Iraq's interim government are hoping that towns such as Falluja and Ramadi can be stabilised ahead of elections scheduled for January.




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