BAGHDAD – Iraq’s prime minister denounced a deadly U.S. raid on Sunday as a “crime” that violated the security pact with Washington and demanded American commanders hand over those responsible to face possible trial in Iraqi courts.
The U.S. military, however, strongly denied that it overstepped its bounds and said it notified Iraqi authorities in advance – in accordance with the rules that took effect this year governing U.S. battlefield conduct.
The pre-dawn raid in the southern Shiite city of Kut ended with at least one woman dead after being caught in gunfire and six suspects arrested for alleged links to Shiite militia factions.
But efforts were quickly launched in an attempt to tone down the dispute.
The six detainees were released, said Major Gen. Read Shakir Jawdat, head of the provincial police that includes Kut. At the same news conference, U.S. Col. Richard Francey offered condolences to the family of the woman killed.
The fallout marks the most serious test of the security pact so far and could bring new strains during a critical transition period.
U.S. forces plan to move out of most major Iraqi cities by the end of June in the first phase of a promised withdrawal from the country by the end of 2011.
A statement from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki – in his role as commander general of Iraqi forces – called the raid a “violation of the security pact.”
He asked the U.S. military “to release the detainees and hand over those responsible for this crime to the courts,” according to an Iraqi security official who read the statement to the Associated Press.
Hundreds of demonstrators gathered at the mosque in Kut, about 100 miles southeast of Baghdad, to decry the American action and demand an investigation.
The provincial council then called an emergency meeting and a three-day mourning period. The Iraqi Defense Ministry also ordered the arrest of two high-ranking Iraqi officers for their alleged roles in allowing U.S. forces to operate in Kut.
“We condemn this crime,” said Mahmoud al-Etaibi, head of the council.
Iraq’s military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, described it as the “first violation after signing the security pact.”
The U.S. military said its troops acted within the framework of the security pact, saying “the operation was fully coordinated and approved by the Iraqi government.”
The accord, which took effect Jan. 1, requires American commanders to coordinate raids and other pre-planned strikes with the Iraqi government and military, or work in joint U.S.-Iraq units.
At least one person died in the raid, which the U.S. military said targeted the financier of Shiite militia factions believed to be backed by the Iranians. Iraqi officials placed the death toll at two.