( AP ) - U.S. forces killed at least 25 members of a rogue Shiite militia in a heavy firefight early Friday, the military said.
The troops were targeting a militia commander believed to be associated with members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force and responsible for moving weapons from Iran into Baghdad, the military said.
A group of men opened fire on the U.S. soldiers with assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, and at least one man was carrying what appeared to be an anti-aircraft weapon, the military said. Two buildings were destroyed and at least 25 people were killed in the ensuing battle.
U.S. aircraft repeatedly bombed the Shiite section of Khalis, about 50 miles north of Baghdad, according to an Iraqi army official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information. At least 17 were killed, 27 were wounded and eight others were missing, he said.
He said civilians were killed when they rushed out to help those hurt in the initial bombing. The U.S. military did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The town's mayor said the U.S. military targeted areas built up by locals to protect their Shiite neighborhood against attacks by al-Qaida gunmen.
"These places came under attack by American airstrikes," said Khalis Mayor Oday al-Khadran.
Since launching a Baghdad security crackdown more than seven months ago, U.S. troops have increasingly engaged groups that splintered off the country's most powerful Shiite militia, the Mahdi Army.
The Mahdi Army is nominally loyal to the radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who in August ordered a temporary freeze on his followers' activities - including attacks on U.S. troops.
The U.S. military describes the splinter factions as "extremist" or "criminal" militiamen.
"We continue to support the government of Iraq in welcoming the commitment by Muqtada al-Sadr to stop attacks and we will continue to show restraint in dealing with those who honor his pledge," Maj. Anton Alston, a U.S. military spokesman, said Friday. "We will not show the same restraint against those criminals who dishonor this pledge by attacking security forces and Iraqi citizens."