Fighting Forces Residents to Flee Sadr City Slum

Civilians are fleeing Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood, home to more than 2 million people, amid continued fighting between American-backed Iraqi forces and Shiite militiamen. U.S. aircraft launched four more rockets overnight into the slum.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

In Iraq, large numbers of civilians are fleeing Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood. Fighting there has been going on for more than a month between U.S. and Iraqi government forces on one side, and Shiite militias on the other. Those battles continue today.

NPR's Ivan Watson has the latest on what's happening in Sadr City and its impact on Iraqi civilians.

IVAN WATSON: Hundreds of families fled the fighting today, desperate to escape the grinding battle in the packed slum known as Sadr City. American remote-controlled warplanes have been firing missiles at suspected militia targets in Sadr City daily over the past week. U.S. forces have walled off part of the neighborhood while using tanks and surface-to-surface missiles to attack Shiite militiamen.

The militants often retaliate by firing poorly-aimed rockets and mortars in the direction of the Green Zone, seat to the U.S. Embassy and the Iraqi government. American commanders say their battling rogue elements of Cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia.

Dr. NASSER AL-RUBAIE (Spokesman, Sadrist Political Block): (speaking in foreign language)

WATSON: Today in the Iraqi Parliament, the leader of Sadr's political block, Nasser al-Rubaie, denounced the U.S.-led operation.

Dr. AL-RUBAIE: (through translator) The occupation and government forces are carrying out air strikes against the sons of Sadr City, Rubaie said, adding, the only solution is to cancel this siege.

Lt. DON BACON (Spokesman, Multi National Force Iraq; U.S. Military): It's not really a siege either - there's travel in and out.

WATSON: Colonel Don Bacon is a spokesman for the U.S. military.

Lt. BACON: Food's going in, the Iraqi government is trying now to get services into there - but there are checkpoints to make sure weapons are not going in and out.

WATSON: As the campaign grinds on, the civilian death toll continues to rise. Today, Iraqi government spokesman Tassin al-Shakli(ph) told NPR more than 1,000 people had been killed in Sadr City and more than 2,000 wounded since American and the Iraqi government forces launched their offensive.

Ivan Watson, NPR News, Baghdad.

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