BAGHDAD, Iraq â€” With American fighter jets providing air cover, U.S.-backed Iraqi troops battled radical Shiite militiamen Monday in the southern city of Diwaniyah in one of the first major clashes between the two forces. At least 40 people were killed â€” including 25 soldiers â€” and more than 90 injured, according to U.S. and Iraqi army sources.
The U.S. also announced nine U.S. soldiers were killed over the weekend in and around Baghdad, eight by roadside bombs and one by gunfire. And a suicide bombing at a checkpoint in Baghdad killed 15 and injured 35, capping one of the bloodiest 24 hours in Iraq in recent weeks.
The fighting in Diwaniyah began Sunday night and raged through most of Monday, ending when reinforcements arrived from Kut, 60 miles away.
The more-than-12-hour battle illustrates the growing strength and confidence of the Mahdi army militia of anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who is increasingly challenging the authority of the Iraqi government and, by extension, the United States.
The battle was sparked after Iraqi soldiers arrested a member of the Mahdi militia on suspicion he was planning bombings in the predominantly Shiite town, authorities said.
Witnesses in Diwaniyah described a chaotic scene in which combatants fought through the streets using machine guns, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades. At one point during the battle, Mahdi militiamen executed a dozen Iraqi army soldiers who had run out of ammunition, according to Maj. Gen. Othman Ghanimi.
Some Iraqi soldiers were captured and beheaded, Iraqi army officials said. As of late Monday, it was unclear how many militiamen had died.
By evening, the militia had set up road checkpoints and taken over seven neighborhoods in the south and east of the city, while the Iraqi army was controlling the northern and western parts, Army Capt. Fatik Aied said.
Dr. Mohammed Abdul-Muhsen of the city’s general hospital said 40 people had been killed â€” 25 Iraqi soldiers, 10 civilians and five militiamen. Meanwhile, new allegations of indiscriminate killings by U.S. troops surfaced Monday. Relatives of seven civilians shot dead during a gunbattle in a Baghdad neighborhood Sunday said U.S. soldiers had stepped out of their vehicles and randomly fired at their car.
“The soldiers decided to kill everyone on the streets, and my mother was one of them,” Mohammed Sabah al-Dulaimi, 19, an engineering student, told The Washington Post in a telephone interview. “They were angry. There’s no other reason for killing. They took revenge.”
Al-Dulaimi’s mother, Suad Jodah Yaseen, was returning from work in a company car, which stopped some distance away from the scene where a roadside bomb had struck a U.S. military vehicle, according to her brother, Hadi Jodah Yaseen, 50.
“But random shooting by American soldiers hit her in the head and the chest, and one bullet pierced her chest and came out of the back,” Yaseen said.
Lt. Col Barry Johnson, a U.S. military spokesman, confirmed that seven civilians were killed Sunday in Ghazaliyah, a volatile western Baghdad neighborhood where U.S. forces have bolstered their efforts to tame sectarian violence. But he said the civilians were caught in the crossfire between U.S. troops and insurgents.
“These people were unfortunately in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Johnson said. He added that there would be a review to determine whether a further investigation into the soldiers’ actions is warranted.
Yesterday two factions vying for control of parts of Iraq clashed in “one of the first major clashes beween the two forces”. We have a situation where the US is backing the new Iraqi army and they are engaging well armed and determined militiamen. It is no longer an insurgency. It is no longer just roadside bombings and suicide attacks. It is now a fight for control of cities and population centres. How long before it becomes a battle for control of the country’s resources?
Iraq is now in the grip of a civil war caused by the invasion by the US and UK in 2003. Talk about fucking things up. Liberate the Iraqi’s from Saddam and plunge them into the midst of a war for control of a country split along ethnic lines. Excellent play. Well done team!!!