Prime Minister apologises to the people for the operation

BAGHDAD: Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Tuesday sharply criticised a U.S.-Iraqi attack on a Shia militia stronghold in Baghdad, exposing a rift with his American partners on security tactics, as 28 persons were killed in a series of bombings and shootings.

The latest violence occurred as the U.S. launches a major operation to secure Baghdad to control Shia-Sunni sectarian bloodshed that many fear will lead to civil war.

Mr. Al-Maliki's criticism was delivered hours after a pre-dawn air and ground attack on an area of Sadr City, the stronghold of the radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia.

Police said three persons, including a woman and a child, were killed in the raid, which the U.S. command said was aimed at ``individuals involved in punishment and torture cell activities.''

Three persons were captured in the raid, the U.S. military said without mentioning the deaths.

Mr. Al-Maliki, a Shia, said he was ``very angered and pained'' by the operation, warning that it could undermine his efforts toward national reconciliation.

``Reconciliation cannot go hand in hand with operations that violate the rights of citizens this way,'' Mr. Al-Maliki said in a statement on Government television.

``This operation used weapons that are unreasonable to detain someone like using planes.''

He apologised to the Iraqi people for the operation and said ``this won't happen again.''

Hours after he spoke, central Baghdad was shaken early on Tuesday by three near-simultaneous bomb explosions near the Interior Ministry building in Al-Nahda neighbourhood. Ten civilians were killed and eight persons were injured, police said.

A few hours later, two roadside bombs exploded in the main Shurja market in central Baghdad within minutes of each other, killing 10 persons and injuring 50.

Concerned by the cycle of violence, President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, met the top U.S. Commander in Iraq, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., to discuss security operations in Baghdad.

The public position taken by Mr. Al-Maliki and Mr. Talabani signal serious differences between Iraqi politicians and both U.S. and Iraqi military officials on how to restore order and deal with armed groups, many of which have links to political parties. AP