Iraqi militia battle police amid surge in violence

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
Media: AFP
Byline: Fadel Mushatat
Date: 20 October 2006


AMARA, Iraq, Oct 20, 2006 (AFP) - Shiite militia fighters fought deadly
street battles with Iraqi police in the southern city of Amara on Friday
after overnight clashes left 15 dead, witnesses and medics said.

Elsewhere in Iraq, where US and Iraqi forces are struggling to contain a
wave of sectarian violence, mortar fire rained down on a strife-torn
northern town and death squads hunted civilians in the killing fields north
of Baghdad.

Fighting erupted in Amara after police arrested a member of radical cleric
Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia suspected of killing a local
intelligence officer, according to Sadr supporters.

"There are 15 dead, ten of them gunmen, and 90 wounded, including militia,
police and civilians. The fighting is continuing," said Zamil al-Oreibi,
medical director of the city's health department.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki dispatched a ministerial delegation headed by
the state minister for security affairs, Shirwan al-Waeli, to resolve the
crisis in the Shiite town, said his spokesman.

"They are going to follow up the situation after the clashes that broke out
in Amara following the assassination of the intelligence chief," spokesman
Yassin Majeed told AFP.

Witnesses reported fierce clashes, with fighting concentrated in the areas
around both the police headquarters and the Sadr Movement's office in the
city, and three bases belonging to elite police units were ablaze.

British troops are on standby to fly to Amara if asked for help by Iraqi
forces and a US warplane flew over the city late Thursday, a British army
spokesman said. He added, however, that Iraqi troops were still in control.

On Wednesday, the chief of Amara's police intelligence service was killed
along with three colleagues by a roadside bomb. The next day a Mahdi Army
leader was arrested, provoking a reprisal attack by his supporters.

"It appears that rogue militia elements believe that the police service
kidnapped one of their number, and that's why they attacked the police
station," said British military spokesman Major Charlie Burbridge.

"Now that hasn't been resolved yet and inevitably in these situations
there's going to be a degree more shooting. We're expecting something else
to happen today," he added.

British troops were responsible for Amara until August, when they pulled
out of a base on the outskirts of the city that was coming under regular
mortar attack and handed over security duties to Iraqi forces.

Following the withdrawal, the Mahdi Army -- a loosely-organised militia
force nominally loyal to Sadr, the leader of a radical Shiite political and
religious faction -- declared victory over the "occupier".

Southern Iraq's population is overwhelmingly Shiite. Maysan province, of
which Amara is the capital, has been spared much of the sectarian violence
that has ravaged mixed Sunni and Shiite areas around Baghdad.

However, Shiite militias often battle over politicial power and oil
resources, and British troops are regularly targeted.

Overnight, a barrage of mortars rained down on the strife-torn town of
Balad, north of Baghdad, killing nine people and injuring 12 others, police

The shells hit a residential neighbourhood just as people were sitting down
for their evening meal in the mainly Shiite city in Sunni heartland where
sectarian violence claimed dozens of lives in recent days.

The mortar barrage is only the latest episode in a tit-for-tat series of
revenge killings that erupted there on October 12 with the killing of a
Sunni insurgent leader.

There have been differing accounts on the severity of the clashes, with US
forces acknowledging the death of 14 Shiites and 28 Sunnis in the first two
days of clashes before Iraqi troops pacified the area.

"We are seeing local leaders take control of the situation," said US
military spokesman Major General William Caldwell on Thursday. "They are
the ones who brought the situation under control."

Leaders from Salaheddin province, including religious figures and tribal
sheikhs, met Wednesday to pledge inter-sectarian brotherhood.

"We're all brothers-in-arms," said Balad Mayor Amer Abdul, according to a
US military account of the meeting. "We're all Iraqis and Arabs."

Iraqis on the scene and local police, however, describe a much more chaotic
situation. They said Shiite militias roamed the area for days afterwards
and killed dozens of Sunnis, with a body count well over 60.

Three civilians were killed Friday and three others wounded when gunmen
launched an attack on Khalis, a Shiite market town north of Baghdad at the
centre of a recent spike in sectarian killings.

The night before, 10 civilians were killed when Khalis' market was bombed.