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US and Iraqi forces battle former ally anti-Qaeda militia

Latest update : 2009-04-11

Iraqi and US forces clashed with their one-time allies, a US-trained anti-Qaeda militia, for a second day as they tried to restore calm in the central Baghdad neighborhood of Fadel, once a former al Qaeda stronghold.

AFP - Iraqi forces clashed with members of an anti-Qaeda militia group in Baghdad for a second straight day on Sunday, as US troops backing them ordered residents to hand over weapons or face reprisals.
   
Automatic weapons fire crackled intermittently in the central Baghdad neighbourhood of Fadel, where fighting broke out on Saturday after Iraqi special forces arrested militia leader Adel Mashhadani.
   
Mashhadani is the local chief of the Sahwa, or Awakening, militia comprising mostly Sunni former insurgents trained and financed by US and Iraqi forces to fight Al-Qaeda militants.
   
Iraqi forces, with the backing of US troops attempted Sunday to restore calm in the Sunni Muslim neighbourhood, a former Al-Qaeda bastion, but were confronted by snipers hiding in buildings, said an AFP correspondent at the scene.
   
American troops in armoured vehicles criss-crossed the neighbourhood blaring messages in Arabic from loudspeakers ordering residents to hand over weapons by a 12 noon (0900 GMT) deadline or face reprisals.
   
"Any one who still holds weapons after this deadline will be considered a terrorist," said the message.
   
There were no immediate reports of further casualties.
   
Two Iraqi civilians were killed in Saturday's fighting and 15 other people were wounded, including four soldiers and seven Sahwa members, the interior ministry said.
   
The Iraqi army has blocked access to Fadel since the fighting began and US helicopters have carried out reconnaissance flights over the area.
   
The fighting is the worst of its kind in the central Baghdad neighbourhood since US and Iraqi forces, backed by Sahwa fighters, waged war in 2007 against Al-Qaeda militants and their supporters who had taken over the area.
   
The capital was also the scene of heavy fighting a year later when US and Iraqi troops took on the Mahdi Army militia of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in their eastern Baghdad bastion of Sadr City.
   
Mashhadani's arrest was confirmed by Baghdad military command spokesman Major General Qasim Atta who declined to provide reasons for the move.
   
Mashhadani helped Iraqi and US forces expel Al-Qaeda militants from Fadel and then went on to make the Sunni neighbourhood his own stronghold.
   
The mainly-Sunni Sahwa militia, termed Sons of Iraq by the US military, have since the end of 2007 played a crucial role in driving Al-Qaeda fighters from Baghdad and other areas of Iraq, thereby dramatically reducing levels of violence across the country.
   
But the Shiite-led Iraqi government has always been wary of the groups and the Sahwas have voiced fears that in the long term they will be sidelined.
 

Date created : 2009-03-29

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