The U.S. military says 49 militants were killed during a raid in Baghdad's Sadr City district. But the Iraqi government says some of the dead are civilians. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports the Iraqis have filed a formal protest.

American ground forces, backed by attack helicopters, went into Sadr City to track down an insurgent believed involved in a high-profile kidnapping ring.

U.S. military officials say dozens of criminals died in the operatation. But Iraqi officials say some civilians were killed and witnesses say the dead included women and young children.

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbaugh says Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki quickly called in the U.S. commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus.

He says during their meeting, the prime minister filed a formal protest against what is seen in Baghdad as a use of excessive force.

"You cannot kill the civilians in this way," said Ali al-Dabbaugh. "I do understand there are a lot of people violating our law and then you have criminals. But do not use the power this way."

The Iraqi spokesman did not say if there is evidence the civilians were killed by insurgents or U.S. forces.

Speaking from Washington on CNN's Late Edition program, Ali al-Dabbaugh said Prime Minister Maliki and General Petraeus talked about ways to prevent further civilian loss of life. The prime minister's spokesman said these deaths have created a sense of tension within the Iraqi government.

"There is a tension in the parliament today," he said. "And for the first time now there is a great anger in the country and in Baghdad against killing such civilians."

During the televised interview, Ali al-Dabbaugh also repeated his government's call for all employees of the U.S. security firm Blackwater to leave Iraq. Blackwater, which provides protection for American diplomats, is accused of killing Iraqi civilians.