Soldiers control Iraqi city as clashes spread

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
Media: AFP
Byline: Fadel Mushatat
Date: 21 October 2006

AMARA, Iraq, Oct 21, 2006 (AFP) - Troops deployed to quell trouble on the
streets of Amara on Saturday as the uneasy balance of power between Iraq's
security forces and Shiite militias threatened to break down in violence.

Government negotiators managed to broker a ceasefire in this southern city,
restoring order after two days of bloodshed, but more clashes erupted
further north as informal gangs of gunmen tested the government's resolve.

"The Iraqi army is on the main streets and intersections," said Shirwan
al-Waili, Iraq's minister of state for national security, who rushed to
Amara on Friday on the orders of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

"The police are back in their barracks and there are no militia on the
streets," he told reporters in the city.

The medical director of Amara's health department, Zamil al-Oreibi, told
AFP that a total of 24 people had been killed in the fighting and 150
wounded, a mixture of police, militia and civilian bystanders.

Armed militiamen left the streets overnight, troops deployed in numbers and
life was slowly returning to normal in this overwhelmingly Shiite city of
around 350,000 people.

British military spokesman Major Charlie Burbridge said 2,300 Iraqi army
troops had deployed in Amara, with 700 more waiting just outside town, and
confirmed that the police had returned to barracks.

"The situation is definitely calm, but it's very tense. We suspect that
there is a capacity for it to brew up again without any warning," he said.

Clashes erupted on Thursday after police arrested a member of radical
cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army and accused him of planting a bomb
which killed a senior intelligence officer.

Relations had been tense between the militia and the police force, which is
widely understood to be infiltrated by supporters of a rival Shiite

Some 200 to 300 Mahdi Army fighters attacked and burned two police stations
and besieged the force's local headquarters, triggering street battles
between police and militants armed with assault rifles and rocket

The Iraqi army sent reinforcements to the town and British forces, which
have overall security responsibility in southern Iraq, put a 600-strong
battle group on standby to intervene.

On Friday, Sadr -- who of late has appeared to be trying to find a
political rather than a military path to power -- quickly called on his
supporters to stand down and sent aides to the city to negotiate a

"The committee of Moqtada al-Sadr had a prominent role in helping defuse
the crisis. We will continue talks today and will emerge with a fair and
just decision," Waili told a news conference.

Waili said he had asked the British forces not to intervene, believing that
the Iraqi army was up to the task of restoring order, but noted that they
could step in quickly if needed.

The government may have won only temporary reprieve, however.

Police Lieutenant Colonel Mohammed Hassan told AFP that gunbattles were
underway in the town of Suweira, a mainly Shiite community on the Tigris
river 60 kilometres (35 miles) southeast of the capital Baghdad.

"Two Mahdi Army and one civilian have been killed. Five others are injured:
three gunmen and two civilians," he said, adding that two militia vehicles
had been burnt out in the fighting.

Police in Hilla said they intervened to halt a clash between rival Shiite
militias after the Mahdi Army was accused of planting a bomb by an office
of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI).

One SCIRI guard was injured in the blast, police said in Hilla, another
mainly Shiite town south of Baghdad.

Since the US-led invasion of Iraq overthrew the Sunni-led regime of Saddam
Hussein in April 2003, gunmen from the formerly persecuted Shiite majority
population have formed several armed militias.

Some are linked to political movements such as SCIRI or Sadr's office,
which have a role in Maliki's coalition government and enjoy a measure of
political cover, others are little more than lawless death squads.

Increasingly, local conflicts are spiralling out of control and units are
escaping the command of their nominal chieftains, prompting US officers to
label militias the biggest single threat to Iraq's stability.