BAGHDAD — The ugly daily fight for ground in the poor Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City unfolded Saturday at a small mosque next door to a hospital, damaging the hospital and a number of its ambulances, and near a group of children who were wounded as they gathered tin cans to sell for salvage.
The missiles that hit close to the Sadr General Hospital were American. After a night of clashes in the neighborhood, the Americans fired at least three “precision-guided munitions” at the small building next door to the hospital. Neighbors said the building was used as a place of prayer for pilgrims, hospital employees and neighborhood residents, but the military identified it as a command center for the Shiite militias that it is battling.
Twenty-eight people were wounded in the strikes on the building and surrounding area, said Abdul Hussain Qassim, a hospital official.
Responsibility for the other strike is in dispute. The Americans said claims that they had attacked the children were “preposterous.” The area where the hit occurred is near heavily contested ground. Shiite militias trying to hit nearby Iraqi Army and American forces have sometimes misfired, hitting areas near there in recent fighting.
Both instances underline sad truths about urban warfare. The daily horror for families and children living near the front line area of Sadr City is that who is a friend and who a foe is no longer a meaningful question. Heavy weapons do not discriminate. The militias use rocket-propelled grenades, sniper rifles and mounted machine guns as well as AK-47 rifles while the Americans shoot Hellfire missiles, tank rounds, satellite-guided missiles and rounds from machine guns.
Sometimes it feels as if nothing is what it seems. Iraqi ambulances have been used to ferry weapons, and homes are used as safe houses for militia fighters. Men in the vests of municipal road workers sometimes toil at burying improvised explosive devices while Iraqi and American forces have holed up in schools and Education Ministry buildings.
The sign at the iron gate at the entrance to the building demolished by the American strike reads “Imam Hussein’s Resthouse.”
The Americans described the building in a statement as “a “criminal element command and control center.”
“Intelligence reports indicate the command and control center was used by criminal elements to plan and coordinate attacks against Iraqi security and coalition forces and innocent Iraqi citizens,” the statement said.
When asked about the attack, Col. Gerald O’Hara, a spokesman for the multinational forces, said the Americans “take great care to prevent any collateral damage and will continue to do so.”
“We don’t target civilians and regret any casualties,” he added. One of the leaders of the Sadr bloc in Parliament, Nassar al-Rubaie, condemned the attacks, which are mainly focused on the Mahdi Army and other militias associated with Moktada al-Sadr, a radical Shiite cleric. “We blame the government as it stands watching quiet and does not lift a hand. The airstrikes are targeting civilians.”
“Today was a serious case because it included the hospitals and the ambulances,” he said. “This is aggression in the full sense of the word.”
A doctor, who asked that his name not be used, said that nurses and doctors ran screaming as the blasts blew out hospital windows and shook the building.
The first missile hit the building next door. The second struck an area used as a parking lot for the hospital’s ambulances, damaging a water line and creating a small pond, as well as destroying three ambulances and shattering the windows in others. A third missile hit a generator nearby that supplied the neighborhood; the hospital’s generator was not damaged.
About an hour later, at the front line between the southern part of the neighborhood that is held by the American and Iraqi military and the northern section that is held by Shiite militias, the group of children was hit, according to a child and one adult who was injured there and brought to the Sadr hospital.
Haider Abbas, 10, was brought to the hospital with what appeared to be a gaping hole in his back and shrapnel injuries across his stomach. The boy screamed and whimpered in pain, barely able to answer a doctor’s questions.
“My friend brought me to the hospital, but we had to leave the other wounded kids behind,” he said. “The Iraqi Army refused to allow them to be evacuated, but my friend took me anyway.”
The doctor, Abdul Rahman Hadi, said the boy was bleeding internally. “He needs surgery quickly,” Dr. Hadi said. “The irony is that not one of his relatives has come because he is an orphan.”
Another victim of that attack, Ahmad Yahya, 31, whose leg was broken, said the Iraqi Army had blocked evacuation from the area of the attack. “I was with a group of about 15 children who were collecting the empty cans or the trash in Jamila,” he said. “I don’t know why this happened.”
Also on Saturday, the Turkish military announced that it had killed 150 fighters in Kurdistan where fighters for the rebel Kurdish group, the P.K.K., and allied groups have remote redoubts. The P.K.K. is fighting to have greater self-rule for Kurds living in Eastern Turkey.
But Bryar Gabary, a spokesman for one of the allied groups, disputed the Turkish military’s figures. “The Turkish incursions on Friday killed six of our fighters.”
The military announced Saturday that an American soldier was killed Friday when his vehicle struck an improvised explosive device in eastern Baghdad.
Tareq Mahir and an employee of The New York Times contributed reporting.