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Mayor of Sadr City seriously wounded in attack
BAGHDAD, Iraq - In what could be a setback to the smooth start of a new push to secure Baghdad, gunmen seriously wounded the mayor of the Sadr City neighborhood Thursday in an ambush that ended an eerily quiet period in the crowded Shiite Muslim militia stronghold.
Rahim al-Darraji, who was taken to a U.S. hospital after the attack, which killed his driver and an unidentified passenger in his car, has won praise as the negotiator who effected the peaceful entry of Americans troops into Sadr City, the base for sectarian-motivated death squads that are blamed for driving the capital's violence to record levels.
Government officials said the assassination attempt not only was a challenge to U.S.-led forces but also to Muqtada al-Sadr, the anti-American cleric whose Mahdi Army militia controls the area. Al-Sadr has ordered his followers to refrain from violence and to cooperate with Iraqi security forces.
"There will be attacks against all those who are working with the security plan," said Ali al-Dabbagh, an Iraqi government spokesman. "The Sadrists and Muqtada al-Sadr have shown their support, and he will not allow those who are against the security plan because they'll be against the interests of all Iraqis."
Hours before news of the ambush broke, Maj. Gen. Joseph Fil, the commander of U.S. troops in Baghdad, had hailed al-Darraji for his efforts to help open a joint American-Iraqi security station in Sadr City. Fil described the mayor to a group of journalists in Baghdad as an ally who had helped persuade rebels not to confront U.S. and Iraqi troops.
"Now, we're in Sadr City, working closely with the mayor, and it's been completely permissive and there's been no pushback, if you will, from Jaysh al-Mahdi," Fil said, referring to the Mahdi Army by its Arabic name.
Gunmen fired on the vehicle that was carrying al-Darraji just before 4 p.m. in the Habibiyah area of Sadr City, police said. A U.S. military statement said al-Darraji was treated by Iraqi police and nearby American troops before being airlifted to the heavily fortified compound known as the Green Zone.