Iraqi forces ‘clash with al-Qaeda’

Shia cleric escapes bomb attack as new data shows fewer civilian deaths in February.

The US-driven Baghdad security plan officially began on February 14 [AFP]
The US-driven Baghdad security plan officially began on February 14 [AFP]
Abdul Karim Khalaf, a spokesman for the Iraqi interior ministry, said foreign Arabs and Afghans were among some 80 people killed and 50 captured in the clashes between troops and al-Qaeda suspects in Amiriyat al Falluja.
But one police official in the area put the number of fighters killed at 70, with three police officers killed.
“Because it was so many killed we can’t give an exact number for the death toll,” Reuters reported a police source as saying.
Another report said that only “dozens” were killed.
There was no immediate verification of the number of casualties from medical sources.
US forces not involved
Witnesses said that the village in Anbar province was attacked, prompting residents to flee and seek help from the Iraqi security forces.
Major Jeff Pool, a US military spokesman in Falluja, said US forces were not involved in the battle.
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The US military is said to have encouraged an alliance of Sunni tribesmen in the area to oppose al-Qaeda fighters in the province, while in Baghdad, Iraq’s capital, US and Iraqi troops concentrate their efforts to calm violence in the city.

The fighting comes as the US military plans to send 4,000 US troops as reinforcements to the province, a desert area military sources say is at the heart of a Sunni Arab uprising in Iraq.
While the US is planning to increase troop numbers, Gediminas Kirkilas, Lithuania’s prime minister, said on Thursday that the Baltic state would “most probably” withdraw its 53 soldiers from Iraq.
The move comes after Britain and Denmark announced troop withdrawals.
Civilian deaths
On Thursday, a car bomb killed at least five people and wounded 10 in a convoy that was headed to a police officer’s wedding, Lieutenant Wessam Mohammad said.
In the Shia city of Iskandariyah, four Iraqi civilians were killed and 10 others injured in a mortar attack, the US military said.

US and Iraqi forces are concentrating their
efforts to calm violence in Baghdad [AFP]

The average number of bodies found in Baghdad has decreased since the Baghdad security plan officially began on February 14, while the number of Iraqi civilian deaths fell to its lowest level in four months, according to figures from Iraq’s interior, defence and health ministries.

But February still saw 1,645 civilian deaths, according to the figures leaked by ministry officials, still far above the 545 civilian deaths recorded a year ago during February 2006.
The Iraqi government has stopped publishing casualty figures and has banned officials from giving numbers to the media.
Arms discovery
Separately, the US military said on Thursday that it had found a large weapons cache along a major highway near the suburb of Youssifiyah in southwestern Baghdad.
The arsenal included two Sanger missiles, two 122m rockets, 18 rounds of 60mm mortar as well as grenades, rockets, explosives and 2,000 rounds of Kalashnikov ammunition.
Fighters have been seeking to control over routes from Youssifiyah into the Iraqi capital.
Source: News Agencies


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