Sunni Insurgents Battle in Baghdad

Iraqi soldiers search a car at a checkpoint on a major road in the Sadr City neighborhood in Baghdad on Wednesday May 30 2007. Iraqi and U.S. forces conducted raids in the neighborhood in the early morning, apparently searching for five British men abducted from a nearby building on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim)
Iraqi soldiers search a car at a checkpoint on a major road in the Sadr City neighborhood in Baghdad on Wednesday May 30 2007. Iraqi and U.S. forces conducted raids in the neighborhood in the early morning, apparently searching for five British men abducted from a nearby building on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim) (Karim Kadim - AP)

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By John Ward Anderson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, June 1, 2007

BAGHDAD, May 31 -- Sunni residents of a west Baghdad neighborhood used assault rifles and a roadside bomb to battle the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq this week, leaving at least 28 people dead and six injured, residents said Thursday.

The mayor of the Amiriyah neighborhood, Mohammed Abdul Khaliq, said in a telephone interview that residents were rising up to try to expel al-Qaeda in Iraq, which has alienated other Sunnis with its indiscriminate violence and attacks on members of its own sect.

"I think this is going to be the end of the al-Qaeda presence here," Abdul Khaliq said of the fighting Wednesday and Thursday, which began over accusations that al-Qaeda in Iraq had executed Sunnis without reason.

The Baghdad battle is evidence of a deepening split between some Sunni insurgent groups and al-Qaeda in Iraq, which claims allegiance to Osama bin Laden. Although similar rebellions occurred in Diyala province earlier this year, the fighting this week appears to be the first time the conflict has reached the streets of Baghdad.

Abdul Khaliq said he hoped U.S. forces would stay out of the fight. "But if the Americans interfere, it will blow up, because they are the enemy of us both, and we will unite against them and stop fighting each other," he said.

In the western province of Anbar, which is predominantly Sunni, tribal leaders have formed an umbrella group, the Anbar Salvation Council, to join with U.S. and Iraqi troops in a common fight against al-Qaeda in Iraq, which used to dominate the province. Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the No. 2 commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, said at a news briefing Thursday that 12,000 Anbar residents have joined the Iraqi security forces in the first five months of this year, compared with 1,000 in all of last year.

Tribal leaders say they are signing up because they oppose al-Qaeda in Iraq's extremist ideologies and its attacks on local residents, but critics of the council say the U.S. effort in Anbar amounts to backing one private army against another.

In an attack clearly meant to intimidate the tribes, a suicide bomber wearing an explosives vest blew himself up Thursday among 150 recruits waiting to enter a police compound in the Anbar city of Fallujah, killing 25 people and wounding at least 20, said Ayman Hussein Zaidan, an official at Fallujah General Hospital.

In a second suicide attack Thursday in Anbar, six people were killed, including three policemen, when a car bomb exploded at a telephone exchange in Ramadi, the provincial capital about 60 miles west of Baghdad, said Col. Tariq al-Dulaimi, a local police chief. He said seven police officers and two bystanders were wounded in the blast.

The Amiriyah neighborhood, located near Baghdad International Airport in the western part of the capital, has been hit hard by rampant violence, a lack of services and the expulsion of Shiite families. It is considered a virtual no man's land.

Problems arose on Tuesday when the Islamic Army, a powerful Sunni insurgent group, posted a statement at a local mosque criticizing al-Qaeda in Iraq for killing dozens of other Sunnis in Fallujah and Baghdad "on suspicion only," without sufficient evidence that they had done something wrong, according to a copy sent to The Washington Post. The message warned al-Qaeda in Iraq to stop the practice, which it said could lead to clashes between them.

Late Wednesday afternoon, according to residents reached by phone who would not be quoted by name for security reasons, an armed group scrawled graffiti on a school wall reading: "Down with al-Qaeda, long live the honest resistance." When al-Qaeda in Iraq members came to wipe away the writing, a roadside bomb exploded nearby, killing three of them, residents said.


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