Iraqi Troops Battle Shiite Militiamen In Southern City

By Sudarsan Raghavan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, August 29, 2006

BAGHDAD, Aug. 28 -- With American combat aircraft providing 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 20 Iraqi soldiers and eight civilians were killed, a U.S. military official said, citing initial reports. Seventy people were injured.

Also, a suicide bombing in Baghdad killed 15 and injured 35, capping one of the bloodiest 24 hours in Iraq in recent weeks.

The more-than-12-hour battle in Shiite Muslim-dominated Diwaniyah, about 100 miles south of Baghdad, illustrates the growing strength and confidence of the Mahdi Army militia of anti-U.S. cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who is increasingly challenging the authority of the Iraqi government and, by extension, the United States.

Some Iraqi soldiers were captured and beheaded, Iraqi army officials said. As of late Monday, it was unclear how many militiamen had died.

Nine U.S. soldiers also were killed over the weekend in and around Baghdad, the U.S. military said Monday, making it one of the most lethal weekends for American troops in recent months. Seven U.S. soldiers were killed by roadside bomb attacks and one by gunfire on Sunday, while another soldier was killed by a roadside bomb on Saturday.

On Sunday, gunmen and bombers killed at least 69 people, the deadliest of the attacks taking place outside Baghdad, in northern cities.

Meanwhile, new allegations of indiscriminate killings by U.S. troops surfaced Monday. Relatives and neighbors of seven civilians shot dead during a gun battle in a Baghdad neighborhood on 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 said in a telephone interview. "They were angry. There's no other reason for killing. They took revenge."

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 of a gun battle between U.S. troops and insurgents.

Johnson said that insurgents opened fire on American troops with grenade launchers and guns after the roadside bomb detonated and that U.S. forces returned fire.

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