Mahmoud Othman, a senior Kurdish politician, said on Friday the plan also would include a timeline for preparing Iraqi forces to take over security from US forces.

 

That would fit with the overall US-led multinational force's strategy to transfer security to Iraqi forces in certain regions while withdrawing to larger regional bases to stand ready to help in case of emergency.

 

A final stage would involve the drawdown of US soldiers from those bases.

 

"There is no finite and UN-approved timeline for the withdrawal of foreign troops, but there is a timeline to accomplish the readiness of Iraqi security forces to take over security in the country," Othman said.

 

Separately, US and Iraqi authorities released 500 more detainees from American detention centres, the latest to be freed as part of a promise by Nuri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, to release 2,500 by month's end as part of his reconciliation efforts.

 

Emergency

 

In Friday's most serious development, Iraq's government clamped a state of emergency on Baghdad and ordered everyone off the streets after US and Iraqi forces battled anti-government fighters armed with rocket-propelled grenades, hand grenades and rifles near the heavily fortified Green Zone.

 

Iraqi and US military forces clashed with heavily armed attackers throughout the morning in the alleys and doorways along Haifa Street and within earshot of the Green Zone, which houses the US and British embassies and Iraqi government headquarters.

 

Al-Ani urged Iraq's army to curb
attacks on Sunni neighbourhoods

Four Iraqi soldiers and three policemen were wounded before the area was sealed and searched house-to-house for anti-government attackers, police Lieutenant Maitham Abdul Razzaq said.

 

US and Iraqi forces also engaged in gun battles with fighters the dangerous Dora neighbourhood in south Baghdad.

 

Clusters of women shrouded in black head-to-toe robes scurried along to beat the ban, and US soldiers frisked men also dashing home against a backdrop of thick, black smoke rising above the white high-rise buildings of Haifa Street.

Helicopters flitted back and forth overhead.

 

Haifa Street was the scene of some of the heaviest resistance when US forces swept into Baghdad in March 2003, and it has remained difficult to control because many residents have natural links to the Sunni-led armed campaign.

 

It is lined with tall and relatively new buildings put up by former leader Saddam Hussein to house Syrian refugees loyal to him and members of his security forces.

 

Show of force

 

Dhafir al-Ani, spokesman for the Iraqi Accordance Front, said: "Large numbers of [Shia] Mahdi Army militias have attacked Sunni districts in Baghdad, in a clear show of force.

 

"They faced fierce resistance from the armed inhabitants. We urge the Iraqi army, which is in control of the attacked areas, to take responsibility and put an end to such provocations."

 

Al-Ani blamed the clashes on the extended curfew.

 

The clashes took place in the Haifa Street, Utafiya and al-Fadil districts of central Baghdad.

 

Al-Ani said clashes went on between fighters on the one hand and US forces and Iraqi police on the other hand, throughout Friday afternoon.

 

 

Weapons ban

 

Defence Ministry official Major-General Abdul-Aziz Mohamed Jassim initially said all Baghdad residents must be off the streets from 2pm until 6am on Saturday, but al-Maliki later declared the ban would end just three hours after it began.

 

The state of emergency, which was to continue for an indefinite period, included a renewed prohibition on carrying weapons and gave Iraqi security forces broader arrest powers, Jassim said.

 

Earlier on Friday, a car bomb ripped through a market and nearby gas station in the southern city of Basra, killing at least five people and wounding 18, including two policemen, police said.

 

Tight security in Baghdad has not
been able to prevent bombings

A bomb also struck a Sunni mosque in the town of Hibhib northeast of Baghdad, killing 10 worshippers and wounding 15. Al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was slain there in a US air strike earlier this month.

 

At least 19 other deaths were reported in Baghdad. The bodies of five men apparently slain after a mass factory kidnapping on Wednesday were among Friday's toll.

 

The Mujahidin Shura Council, an umbrella organisation linking seven anti-government groups including al-Qaeda in Iraq, claimed it killed 81 workers who were "building a new American base".

 

It was not clear if the group was referring to the factory kidnap victims, and the internet claim could not be independently verified.

 

More US fatalities

 

In other developments, the US military on Friday announced the deaths of five more US soldiers. Twelve US service members have died or been found dead this week.

 

The US military said two Multinational Division-Baghdad soldiers were killed on Friday morning when their vehicle struck a roadside bomb southeast of the capital.

 

Earlier in the day, a separate military statement reported that two US marines were killed during combat in Anbar province in separate attacks on Wednesday and Thursday, and a soldier died elsewhere in a non-combat incident on Wednesday.