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Iraqi forces strike truce with Shiite militia after battles kill at least 80

Daily Star staff

August 29, 2006

Iraqi forces struck a truce Tuesday with Shiite militia fighters after violent clashes in a town south of Baghdad left at least 80 dead since Monday. Meanwhile, Iraq's most powerful Shiite politician on Tuesday dismissed American allegations of Iranian meddling in his country and said the United States had failed to provide any proof or documentation.

The deal with the Shiite militias came as a string of sectarian attacks killed at least 10 and a pipeline exploded near Diwaniyya, incinerating at least 36 civilians as they looted fuel. And Iraqi police found the bodies of 24 people who had apparently been tortured and shot before being dumped at two locations in Baghdad, police said.

"We reached a settlement with Mehdi Army forces to end the confrontation," town councilor Sheikh Ghanim Abid said, as shops in Diwaniyya reopened and water and electricity supplies were turned back on.

"We killed 50 gunmen in the clashes and this incident resulted in the deaths of 23 of our soldiers and injuries to 30 of them," Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said.

Local health director Hamid Jaathi said eight civilians were also killed in Monday's 12-hour gun battle, and that 61 wounded bystanders had been treated.

The army has agreed not to enter residential areas for three days, the Mehdi Army will withdraw its fighters and a militia commander who was arrested at the weekend will be brought to court within 24 hours, Abid said.

"We are now watching the militia withdrawing. They started pulling out early this morning and they're still going," an Iraqi Army captain told AFP.

Saheb al-Ameri, the head of cleric Moqtada Sadr's office in Najaf, said Diwaniyya's governor met the cleric on Monday to negotiate an end to the battle, which he blamed on the "personal behavior" of some Mehdi Army members.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, the head of the country's largest Shiite party, called on the government to expand its efforts to reconcile Iraq's ethnic and religious groups, but not so far as to include Islamic extremists or Saddam Hussein loyalists.

"It is obvious that Takfiris [Sunni extremists] and Saddamists can never conduct any dialogue and they are not ready for that. They are the real enemies of the Iraqi people," the soft-spoken Hakim said in an interview in his downtown Baghdad home.

"It is our duty and the duty of the government to continue contacts and make efforts to attract as many people as possible. Generally, we are very optimistic about the future," Hakim added.

On claims that Iran is meddling in Iraq's affairs, he said: "None of us accept any interference from Iran or from any others. The Iranians have been emphasizing the independence of Iraq," and added: "They do not want to interfere in Iraqi affairs."

Hakim said: "There are allegations from the Americans and from others from time to time, even from the first month of the collapse of Saddam's regime."

"We demanded any documents and evidence, but none were presented to us," he added.

Meanwhile, US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales met Iraq's Deputy Premier Barham Saleh on Tuesday and discussed the tactics used by Iraqi security forces to combat a wave of violence, including torture.

Even as tentative peace returned to Diwaniyya, officials reported a deadly explosion at a fuel pipeline just outside the town. Jaathi said that at least 36 people had been killed and that the toll could rise further.

A Defense Ministry official said the pipeline had not been used since 2003 but that it still contained some fuel and local residents often cut holes in it to siphon off petrol, which is currently in short supply.

"Today they did the same thing and the explosion was set off," he said.

The news came as Maliki said that a four-month-old fuel shortage was over.

Elsewhere in the capital, 11 bullet-riddled corpses, with their hands and legs bound, were found near a school in the Shiite dominated Maalif neighborhood in southern Baghdad, police said.

The bodies of another 13 people, believed to have been aged between 25 and 35, were found dumped behind a Shiite mosque in the Turath neighborhood in western Baghdad. All were all handcuffed, showed signs of torture and had been shot in the head, said police 1st Lieutenant Maitham Abdel-Razzaq.

:: Article nr. 26232 sent on 30-aug-2006 01:14 ECT


Link: www.dailystar.com.lb/article.asp?edition_id=10&categ_id=2&article_id=75104

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