"A similar operation will be launched in al-Ghazaliya against al-Qaeda today. We have sufficient information on places they are in, and we will punish them.

 

Al-Hais said his forces were fighting in plain clothes.

The Salvation Council is the armed wing of an alliance of Sunni sheikhs from the western Iraqi province of Anbar, who have encouraged men to the Iraqi security forces in order to fight al-Qaeda in Iraq members.

Overlapping conflicts

 

Many of these Sunni fighters were previously hostile to the US military and Baghdad's Shia-led government but, angered by al-Qaeda's attacks on civilians and tribal leaders, they have now changed sides.

 

US commanders see this as one of the most positive recent developments in Iraq, which is in the grip of vicious series of overlapping conflicts, and hope now to persuade armed groups to join a peace process.

 

Your Views

"Let the people of Iraq vote if they want the US to stay or leave"

Bob Kaye, Bohemia, US

Send us your views

Lieutenant-General Raymond Odierno, the number two US officer in Iraq, said on Thursday that about four-fifths of the groups currently fighting American forces were thought to be ready to end their campaigns.

 

"So we want to reach back to them," he said. "And we're talking about ceasefires and maybe signing some things that say they won't conduct operations against the government of Iraq or against coalition forces."

Amiriya, however, was still far from peaceful as the political shifts played themselves out in the form of bloody street battles.

 

Official casualty figures were not immediately available.

 

But a local council member, who declined to be identified because of security concerns, said at least 31 people, including six al-Qaida members, were killed and 45 other fighters were detained during the clashes.

 

Prisoner swap?

 

Iraqi security officials said fighting had decreased since Thursday, but was continuing.


One resident, a former army officer who asked not to be named, said there was a rumour both sides had called a ceasefire to swap prisoners.


Residents of the neighbourhood said they were too afraid to go outside because the two sides had been setting up fake checkpoints to kidnap people.
   
"I'm inside my house holding my Kalashnikov rifle with a group of friends," a 22-year-old resident told Reuters.
   
"We're terrified because both sides are storming into houses trying to find each other. We can see from the window that some of these groups are setting up checkpoints. There are a number of bodies in the street outside."

Mortar attack

Elsewhere in Baghdad, at least 12 people and 40 wounded were killed when mortar rounds fell on a market place, doctor at the capital's Yarmuk hospital said. 

Fifteen bullet-ridden bodies, apparently the victims of so-called sectarian death squads, were also found on the streets on Friday.

 

Some Sunni tribes have encouraged youths
to join the Iraqi security forces [EPA]

Six people al-Qaeda suspects were killed during raids by US and Iraqi soldiers in Falluja, 50km west of Baghdad, on Thursday, the US military said.

 

Another suspect was detained during a follow-up raid on Friday.

 

In southwestern Baghdad, the US military said 10 suspects had been detained during raids targeting a local al-Qaeda commander.
 

And in Taji, 20km north of Baghdad, seven others were arrested, the US military said.

 

Meanwhile, the leader of Iraq's largest Shia party returned to Baghdad from Iran after completing the first phase of his treatment for lung cancer, according to the website of the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq.

 

Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim thanked Iraq's top Shia cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and the Iraqi government for their support.