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'Awakening' group in Baghdad battle
Clashes with anti-al-Qaeda fighters in central Baghdad follow arrest of militia leader.
Last Modified: 30 Mar 2009 05:22 GMT
Several arrests were made by US and Iraqi forces amid the fighting in Baghdad's Fadel district [AFP]

Iraqi and US troops have clashed for a second straight day in Baghdad with so-called Awakening Council fighters opposed to the arrest of a local militia leader.

The fighting in the Fadhil district of the Iraqi capital, in which four people were killed, came after Iraqi forces arrested Adel Mashhadani, the local chief of the Sahwa Council trained and financed by the US and Iraq to battle al-Qaeda fighters.

American troops assisting Iraqi forces on Sunday ordered Sahwa members to surrender their weapons or face reprisals, while Iraqi soldiers blocked access to the area and made several arrests.

"We captured 14 people wanted by Iraqi justice in al-Fadhil district and we found weapons," Qassim al-Moussawi, Baghdad security spokesman, said.

More than 20 people have also been wounded during the fighting, officials said.

The fighting is the most severe seen in central Baghdad since US and Iraqi forces, aided by Sahwa loyalists, battled against al-Qaeda-linked fighters in 2007.

Civilian casualties

The clashes in Fadhil came after Iraqi forces arrested Mashhadani on Saturday, Iraq's interior ministry said.

Mashhadani was detained over allegations of murder and extortion and "violating the constitution", major general Qasim Atta, Baghdad’s military command spokesman, said.

"We also have information that Mashhadani heads the military branch in Fadel of the [banned] Baath party [of Saddam Hussein, the executed former Iraqi president], Atta said.

Iraqi troops "are not hunting-down the Sahwas but carrying out a search operation for suspects wanted by the judicial authorities and gangsters who are firing on our forces," Atta said.

While Mashhadani helped Iraqi and US troops force al-Qaeda from the Fadhil district, he is accused of turning the area into his own stronghold.

Iraq’s Shia-Muslim-led government, which has in the past expressed concerns over the Sahwa fighters' long-term aims, has said that 20 percent of all Sahwas will be integrated into the Iraqi security forces.

Source:
Agencies
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