Iraqi forces 'clash with al-Qaeda'

Ministry figures show February saw a drop in the number of civilian casualties.

    The US-driven Baghdad security plan officially began on February 14 [AFP]


    "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.
     
    The fighting comes ahead of plans by the US military 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 insurgency in Iraq.
     
    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.
     
    Civilian deaths
     

    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.
     
    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.
     
    Ruta Apeikyte, a Lithuanian defense ministry spokeswoman, had earlier said: "We're considering ... that this [Lithuanian] mission of LITCON-9 will be the last."
     
    The moves comes after Tony Blair, the British prime minister, last week promised the withdrawal of about 1,500 British troops and Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Danish prime minister, also announced the withdrawal of his country's forces from Iraq.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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