U.S.-Backed Fighters Attacked Outside Baghdad

American soldiers escort a detainee in a mostly Sunni area of northern Baghdad where residents helped U.S. troops patrol last weekend.
American soldiers escort a detainee in a mostly Sunni area of northern Baghdad where residents helped U.S. troops patrol last weekend. (By Khalid Mohammed -- Associated Press)
By Amit R. Paley
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, November 14, 2007

BAGHDAD, Nov. 13 -- Fierce clashes between the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq and volunteer fighters supported by American troops left at least 20 people dead this week, marking one of the biggest assaults so far on the U.S.-led effort to create neighborhood-based armed patrols, American officials said Tuesday.

As many as 45 fighters from al-Qaeda in Iraq, a predominantly Iraqi organization that American officials say is led by foreigners, attacked two checkpoints manned by the volunteer fighters just outside Baghdad on Monday, the U.S. military said.

The clashes in Adwaniyah, located on the Tigris River 10 miles southeast of the capital, resulted in the deaths of 15 al-Qaeda in Iraq fighters and five "concerned local citizens," military jargon for the neighborhood fighters, said Maj. Alayne Conway, a military spokeswoman.

The groups of volunteers, who are paid by the U.S. military, are part of the effort to enlist tribes and former insurgents, most of them Sunni, to fight al-Qaeda in Iraq. But the effort has been sharply criticized by Shiites who fear the groups could turn against the Shiite-dominated government.

The U.S. military and Iraqi security forces joined in the battle against al-Qaeda in Iraq, whose fighters were unable to overrun the volunteer-run checkpoints, the military said. It said U.S. Air Force F-16s dropped two 500-pound bombs that killed the al-Qaeda in Iraq fighters. No American troops were seriously injured, Conway said.

"I think all the elements that had a part in today's battle were impressed with the concerned citizens," 1st Lt. Robert Hamilton, a Troop B platoon leader from 1st Squadron, 40th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, said in a statement. "For the number of factors against them they handled themselves well."

In other violence across Iraq, 19 people were killed or found dead in separate incidents, an Interior Ministry official said.

Also Tuesday, Col. Hussein Tamir, an Iraqi army officer who supervises border guards, denied reports that Turkish military aircraft had attacked abandoned villages inside northern Iraq.

Turkey said four of its soldiers were killed Tuesday by Kurdish guerrillas, the latest violence in ongoing clashes in recent months between Turkish forces and the Kurdistan Workers' Party, known as the PKK.

Other Washington Post staff in Iraq contributed to this report.

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