US, Iraqi forces clash with militias in Diwaniyah

US tank seriously damaged ; battle sparked by raid on home of leader of Mahdi Army, accused of killing Sunnis; 2 US soldiers killed over weekend.

October 8, 2006 14:57
US, Iraqi forces clash with militias in Diwaniyah

iraq troops 88. (photo credit: )


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US and Iraqi forces clashed with Shiite militiamen Sunday in the southern city of Diwaniyah for the second time in two months in a battle sparked by a raid on the home of a leader of the Mahdi Army, accused of killing Sunnis in Iraq's spiral of sectarian violence. The US military said 30 militiamen were killed in the fighting, in which a US Abrams tank was seriously damaged when it was hammered by rocket-propelled grenades. Officials from the party of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, which heads the militia denied any of their fighters were killed. US troops have been stepping up pressure on the Mahdi Army in past weeks, launching raids on their members and leaders in Baghdad and elsewhere as part of an intensified sweep in the capital aimed at reducing mounting bloodshed. The US command announced the deaths of two more soldiers, both killed Saturday. One died when insurgents attacked his patrol northwest of Baghdad, while the other was killed by a roadside bomb, the military said without specifying where the attack took place. The deaths brought to 26 the number of Americans killed in Iraq this month - at least 16 of them in Baghdad amid the district-by-district crackdown. At least 11 Iraqis died in other violence around the country, including a high-ranking police officer in northern Iraq and a Shiite woman and her young daughter driving in a minibus northeast of Baghdad. Baghdad police also said they found more than 50 bodies in the 24-hour period into Sunday morning - all apparent victims of the sectarian death squads that roam the capital, with many showing signs of torture. The US has shown increasing impatience with the failure of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to rein in militias fueling the Shiite-Sunni killings that many believe now pose a greater threat to Iraq's stability than al-Qaida or the anti-US insurgency. Sunni leaders accuse al-Maliki of hesitating to take action against Shiite militia because many of them - like the Mahdi Army -belong to politial parties on whose support his government relies. Fighting broke out in Diwaniyah, 130 kilometers (80 miles) south of Baghdad after a joint US-Iraqi unit raided the house of Kifah al-Greiti, a Mahdi Army commander in the city soon after midnight, Iraqi Army Capt. Fatiq Ayed said. A fierce battle broke out, lasting through the night and into Sunday morning. Fighting could be seen in two neighborhoods and heavy explosions could be heard, eventually stopping by midmorning. The US military said up to 10 teams of militiamen with rocket propelled grenades attacked Iraqi and US troops. An M1A2 Abrams tank was struck by multiple RPG rounds and was severely damaged, the military said. In the morning, troops barricaded off entrances to the area to prevent militia reinforcements from entering. The military said 30 militiamen were killed, with no casualties among the US or Iraqi forces. The troops were targeting a "high-value target," who was involved in killing Iraqi army soldiers on Aug. 28, when they came under attack, the US command said in a statement without identifying the target. It said the target was captured along with three other people. Iraqi police Lt. Raed Jabir and Mahdi Army officials said al-Greiti was not arrested, and it was not clear who the captured target was. "Al-Greiti is one of the American's most wanted commanders in the city," Fadhil Qasir, a spokesman for the Mahdi Army, told the AP in Diwaniyah. "They have tried to arrest him several times before and they failed this time also." Qasir also denied that the Mahdi Army had suffered any deaths. Diyaa Ghanim, a doctor at the Diwaniyah general hospital, said as of early afternoon the facility had received no bodies. Sheik Abdul-Razzaq al-Nadawi, the head of al-Sadr's office in Diwaniyah, said the Mahdi Army suffered no fatalities but that three were wounded and in critical condition. He said al-Sadr's office had negotiated an arrangement with the prime minister's office that US troops would not enter Mahdi Army neighborhoods in Diwaniya, and that the presence of US troops overnight had provoked the clashes. "We don't attack, but when we are attacked, we respond," he said. Following the fighting, Iraqi authorities imposed a full curfew in Diwaniyah until further notice, Jabir said. Diwaniyah was the scene of a fierce fight in August between the Mahdi Army and Iraqi forces that left 23 Iraqi troops and 50 militiamen killed and scores more wounded. Elsewhere, authorities in Kirkuk ended a security sweep by some 2,000 Iraqi soldiers and police aimed at getting rid of weapons in the northern city, which has seen escalating violence in past weeks. An all-day curfew imposed Saturday during the crackdown was lifted. The troops arrested some 150 suspected insurgents and seized 380 assault rifles and 200 pistols in the house-to-house search, police Brig. Sarhat Qadir said. The sweep began in mainly Kurdish areas in the north of the city, then moved down into the south and west of the city, where the Sunni Arab population is centered. Kirkuk, a major oil center, is at the center of a struggle for power between Sunni Arabs and ethnic Turkmen and Kurds, who claim the city as their own and want it eventually to be included in their self-rule enclave to the north. Shootings, bombings and assassinations have increased in the city - to the extent that authorities dug a 16-kilometer-long (10 mile) trench around the city's southern and western edge to cut off side roads in an attempt to prevent car bombs from entering. In other violence Sunday, an Iraqi police colonel was killed when a roadside bomb hit his convoy near the village of Abu Khashaba, outside the northern city of Mosul. Another man was shot to death by gunmen near his house in Mosul. East of Mosul, police discovered the corpse of another shooting victim, who apparently had been killed about a week ago, al-Jibouri said. Police in Baghdad continued to find more victims of sectarian violence, with the bodies of 51 people, all shot, being found in various parts of the capital in the 24 hours until 7 a.m. (0400 GMT) Sunday, said police 1st Lt. Mohammed Khayoun. Another body showing signs of torture was found in Musayyib on Sunday, about 60 kilometers (40 miles) south of Baghdad, police said. Elsewhere in Musayyib, a civilian was killed and two others wounded when a mortar shell hit a residential area, al-Jibouri said. A roadside bomb exploded on the highway near the city of Tikrit, 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Baghdad, killing four people and wounding a fifth, Lt. Qusay Jassim said. A bomb in Baghdad killed a policeman. In Baqouba, 60 kilometers (35 miles) northeast of Baghdad, gunmen opened fire on a minibus carrying a Shiite family, killing a woman, her 6-year-old daughter and the driver, the city's police department said. The woman's husband and her brother were wounded.

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