Soldiers shot dead six resistance fighters in two attacks on Wednesday around the restive town of Baquba, a bastion of resistance, home to sympathisers of the old regime, said Sergeant Robert Cargie on Thursday. 

Another suspected fighter was shot dead and one wounded near Tikrit, the hometown of "jailed tyrant Saddam Hussein", Cargie added.

Supporting Sistani

Also on Thursday, tens of thousands of Iraqis took to the streets of Basra in support of Ayat Allah Ali Sistani's unrelenting call for general elections in the transfer of power to an interim Iraqi government. 

"Yes, yes to Sistani; no, no to selection," shouted the demonstrators as they headed towards the city's Al-Abilla's mosque. 

They came from all corners of the southern city and its surrounding areas, answering a call by Ali Abd al-Karim Safi al-Musawi, Sistani's representative in southern Iraq. 

Iraqi police were seen everywhere even as helicopters of the British occupation forces hovered overhead. 

The Ayat Allah has rejected the creation of caucuses that would put in place by May a transitional assembly, which in turn would select members of a caretaker government by June. This plan was outlined in the 15 November power-sharing agreement between the US-led occupation administration and the Governing Council.