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U.S. shoots 11 in Iraq

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The U.S. military said its troops shot dead 11 militants in eastern Baghdad on Wednesday, but police and several residents said at least some of the dead were civilians killed by U.S. snipers.

There were conflicting accounts of the shootings in different parts of the Obaidi district close to Sadr City, the main stronghold of anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr where Iraqi troops backed by tanks have launched an operation to take control of the streets.

The U.S. military said all those killed were members of “special groups”, military jargon for rogue units of Sadr’s Mehdi Army militia accused of receiving funding and training from Iran.

In the courtyard of one house in Obaidi, a Mehdi Army bastion, black-robed women wailed over the bloody corpse of a man half-covered by a blanket, while men beat their chests in a sign of grief.

“He was shot by an American sniper. He was loitering outside the house. He was not even holding a piece of wood,” one of the male mourners told Reuters.

An official at police headquarters in eastern Baghdad said 11 bodies had been removed from Obaidi, including three elderly men, two street cleaners and three Mehdi Army fighters.

He blamed U.S. snipers for the killings.

A number of residents and an Interior Ministry official said the shootings were triggered by a roadside bomb attack on a U.S. and Iraqi convoy, but the U.S. military said there had been no such attack on its forces in the area.

U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Steve Stover said the 11 had been killed after they were observed by U.S. soldiers acting suspiciously. He did not say whether sniper teams had carried out the shootings.

In one incident, troops opened fire on a sports utility vehicle carrying four militants armed with assault rifles, killing all the occupants, he said in a statement. Three others were killed as they tried to plant roadside bombs.

The U.S. military said the operation in Obaidi sent a message to the “special groups” that it has blamed for many of the deadly roadside bomb attacks on U.S. troops.

“Operations such as these let special group militants know the government of Iraq, Iraqi security and coalition forces will not tolerate their illegal and violent activities,” said Major Joey Sullinger, spokesman for the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division.

The Mehdi Army has largely stuck to a truce agreed 11 days ago to end weeks of fighting with Iraqi and U.S. troops in Sadr City, although it has been punctuated by skirmishes.

The U.S. military says special groups have not complied with the truce.

Writing by Ross Colvin; Editing by Janet Lawrence