Iraqi Troops Take Control of Sadr City

BAGHDAD -- Thousands of Iraqi troops moved into Baghdad's Sadr City district Tuesday in a major operation aimed at bringing government control over the Shiite militia stronghold, the Iraqi military said.

The large Iraqi force backed by tanks entered the sprawling district before dawn, with troops taking up positions on street corners and deploying on rooftops as Iraqi Humvees patrolled the streets, residents said.

The move is the strongest attempt yet by the government to impose control over the district, which has long been the unquestioned bastion of the al-Mahdi army, the militia loyal to anti-U.S. cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Iraqi and U.S. troops have in the past largely stayed on the neighborhood's edges.

The district erupted into violence in early April after an Iraqi offensive against Shiite militias in the southern city of Basra and for weeks has been the scene of skirmishes between militiamen and U.S. and Iraqi forces.

Military spokesman Brigadier General Qassim al-Moussawi said the troops were deploying in the district as part of a fragile truce reached last week between al-Sadr and the government. So far, there has been no violence in the deployment, code-named "Operation Peace," he said.

"The government chose the approach of preventing bloodshed and entered the city to coordinate with the representatives of the Sadr movement, to achieve stability and security, impose the rule of law and offer service," he told reporters in Baghdad.

Al-Moussawi said three brigades with about 10,000 troops were involved in the deployment. He and the U.S. military said U.S. troops were participating, though al-Moussawi said U.S. forces were nearby in case their support was needed.