Violence rages in Baghdad

At least 3 dead as security forces, Sunni gunmen battle for 9 hours

April 18, 2006|By LOUISE ROUG | LOUISE ROUG,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Intense fighting broke out between security forces and gunmen in a volatile Sunni Arab section of the capital, leaving at least three dead and terrifying residents during a battle that began at night and extended into daylight yesterday.

Authorities said about 50 Sunni gunmen fought Iraq's Shiite-dominated security forces for nine hours in the northern neighborhood of Adhamiya, forcing U.S. troops working in support of Iraqi forces to close down streets and entrances to the area.

Some residents were drawn into the clash, exchanging gunfire with Iraqi soldiers and police they believed to be members of a death squad.

The violence, with its sectarian overtones, highlighted how fractured and fearful the city has become and overshadowed a brief resumption of the trial of former leader Saddam Hussein and seven co-defendants.

At least three people were killed and 20 injured in the Adhamiya fighting, said Mustafa Mashhadani, a spokesman for the Muslim Scholars Association. His Sunni organization has complained of abuses by security forces that allegedly are infiltrated by Shiite militias and act at times as death squads. Sunni residents of Adhamiya "are determined not to allow such forces to enter their neighborhood, so they resisted this force," he said.

Gen. Jawad Rommi Daiani, an area police commander, drove through the streets of the Sunni neighborhood, telling residents through a loudspeaker that they were not under attack. He later appeared on state television, explaining what had happened and appealing for calm.

The Iraqi Islamic Party, the main Sunni political group, also called for restraint.

Inside the heavily fortified Green Zone, the trial of Hussein and his co-defendants continued.

A panel of handwriting experts assembled by the prosecution reported that the former leader's signature appeared on documents linked to a 1982 crackdown on Shiites in the town of Dujail.

But Hussein, his co-defendants and lawyers questioned the panel's credibility. They alleged that the handwriting reports were conducted under the auspices of the Interior Ministry, which many Sunnis perceive as under the control of Iranian-backed Shiite militias. Sunnis dominated during Hussein's regime.

Judge Raouf Abdul Rahman also told the court that a defense motion to have him removed from trying the case had been rejected by an appellate court. He fined one of Hussein's defense attorneys 2,000 dinars, or about $1.33, for making the appeal.

"Everyone should understand that as a judge I don't have any personal biases or political positions toward the defendants," he told the court. "This case will be decided upon the evidence and according to the law."

Elsewhere yesterday, gunmen in the capital kidnapped three engineers on their way to work at a electricity plant. A day earlier, armed men wearing police uniforms and driving police vehicles abducted a dozen employees from the Al-Warkaa Investment Co. in eastern Baghdad, according to a police official.

Police recovered 17 bodies from various areas of Baghdad, including seven found inside a Jeep Cherokee near a primary school in the troubled Dora neighborhood. Five bodies were found in the street on the other side of the school. Three bodies found in Shula showed signs of torture. Near the Shiite neighborhood of Khadamiya, two men who had been shot were found on the bank of the Tigris River.

A roadside bomb aimed at Iraqi security forces patrolling downtown killed a civilian and wounded four others, according to authorities.

In Baqouba, north of Baghdad, a car bomb targeting a police patrol killed a civilian and injured his son. Drive-by gunmen attacked a minibus carrying college students from Baqouba University, killing two and injuring a third.

Louise Roug writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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