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IRAQ - Oct 8 - US And Iraqi Troops Kill 30 In Shi'ite City Clashes.

US and Iraqi troops kill 30 militants in fierce street battles in the southern Shi'ite city of Diwaniya. People were ordered to stay indoors under an indefinite curfew that came into force at 2 pm (1100 GMT) after explosions and the rattle of machine gun fire shook the city's central districts for more than five hours. The military said an M1A2 Abrams tank was severely damaged in the clashes that erupted after militants opened fire with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades on US and Iraqi forces on a mission to detain a "high-value" target. Diwaniya's southern districts are a stronghold for the Mehdi Army militia of Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose movement is a key player in Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government of national unity. A Mehdi Army official, who declined to be named, denied any involvement in the fighting and blamed rogue gunmen. He said Sadr had issued orders to the Mehdi Army "not to attack anybody, including the Americans". Another Mehdi Army official denied reports of the 30 killed and said three people had just been wounded. Hospital sources said four civilians were wounded, three men and a woman. The US military has maintained a large presence in the Diwaniya area since 20 Iraqi soldiers were killed in a battle with Shi'ite militiamen in the city on Aug 28. Maliki, under increasing pressure from Washington, has vowed to crack down on militias, blamed for many of the tit-for-tat killings fuelling the Sunni-Shi'ite violence. Several though are tied to parties within his government and critics have accused him of lacking the political will to disband them. US State Sec Condoleezza Rice delivered a blunt warning to Iraqi leaders in Baghdad this week, telling them to end their "political inaction" and address Iraq's many ills, which range from raging violence to rampant corruption. Iraq's parliament agreed to lift the immunity from prosecution of a Sunni lawmaker accused of pocketing millions of dollars while he oversaw a project to protect Iraq's northern oil pipelines. Oil revenues account for some 95% of the government's budget. The step to remove the lawmaker's legal immunity was unprecedented but largely symbolic as he is no longer in Iraq. The fighting in Diwaniya, 180 km south of Baghdad, came a day after Iraqi forces arrested 184 people and seized hundreds of weapons in a security crackdown in the restive oil city of Kirkuk, which has experienced an explosion of violence in recent weeks. The curfew was lifted on Sunday morning. "An M1A2 Abrams tank was struck by multiple RPG rounds and was severely damaged", the US military statement said. Iraqi and US soldiers then "engaged the enemy forces and killed approximately 30 of the terrorists", it said, adding that coalition and Iraqi forces had suffered no casualties. "Reportedly, up to 10 enemy RPG teams attacked the combined forces, of which six teams were destroyed", the military said. A Reuters reporter in the city heard machinegun fire from 1am (2200 GMT) to 6 am (0300 GMT) as well as the sound of US helicopters overhead. Residents said they saw the tank ablaze. Iraqi soldiers fired into the air to chase away reporters trying to take pictures of the Abrams as it was being recovered by US soldiers on Oct 8. Diwaniya was reported to be quiet later in the day, but there was a heavy US military presence. "There is an American tank on every corner of Diwaniya", said one resident, who declined to be named. "Nobody slept in Diwaniya last night. The fighting was very fierce", he added. US and Iraqi troops have launched numerous operations in recent weeks against the Mehdi Army in their hunt for sectarian death squads accused of carrying out indiscriminate killings. Maliki's government has battled to contain spiralling insurgent and sectarian violence that has forced Washington to send thousands of troop reinforcements to help the fledgling Iraqi security forces regain control of the capital's streets. The US military said Iraqi troops had successfully captured a high-value target, who is accused of involvement in the deaths of soldiers in the battle with Shi'ite militiamen in August. At least 13 were reported at the time to have been executed after they ran out of ammunition.
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Publication:APS Diplomat Recorder
Geographic Code:7IRAQ
Date:Oct 14, 2006
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