Baghdad clashes continue

Gunmen, security forces battle in Sunni area

at least 5 are killed

April 19, 2006|By BORZOU DARAGAHI AND SHAMIL AZIZ | BORZOU DARAGAHI AND SHAMIL AZIZ,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Urban clashes continued for a second day in a volatile Sunni Arab neighborhood of northern Baghdad, leaving at least five Iraqis dead and 20 wounded yesterday in fighting between gunmen and Iraqi security forces.

Witnesses described sectarian gunbattles between Shiite-led security forces and Sunni Arab residents. Iraqi officials, however, said outside insurgents had infiltrated the city's Adhamiya quarter and provoked clashes with police and the army that also killed at least three people Monday.

By late yesterday morning, Iraqi army forces had moved in and a measure of calm had returned. Authorities had sealed off main roads into the neighborhood, and U.S. helicopters scanned the area.

"Now the situation is good and calm," Iraqi army Maj. Gen. Jawad Rumi Daini said in a telephone interview. "Armed men from outside Adhamiya wanted to make trouble inside, and we eliminated them."

The district's mostly Sunni residents blamed elements of the security forces for the violence, saying specialized units of the Interior Ministry have been acting as sectarian death squads and terrorizing Sunni communities.

"The young people of Adhamiya picked up their personal weapons to defend their neighborhoods," said a man emerging on foot from the neighborhood near one of the checkpoints at the district's edge.

"I will not go back home today because the situation is unbearable. Every night when I sleep, I put my gun under the pillow with a bullet in the chamber."

Iraq's Sunni minority and Shiite majority have been engaged in a struggle for power and influence since the U.S.-led invasion. Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish political leaders have been deadlocked for months in talks about forming a government.

The political talks stumbled again yesterday amid continuing security woes. U.N. special envoy Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, in a statement condemning the two days of violence in Adhamiya, urged Iraqi officials to form a government as a first step toward creating "an environment in which rising sectarian tensions in Iraq could be tackled."

Adhamiya, a mostly middle-class district across the Tigris River from the mostly Shiite Kadhamiya area, was a flash point of insurgent activity in 2004 but has calmed considerably. Community leaders say fear of Shiites recently has spurred them to arm themselves and organize militias.

"This area has a Sunni majority, and it's very close to Kadhamiya, which has a Shiite majority," Amel Qazi, a Sunni legislator living in Adhamiya, said in a phone interview. "People in Adhamiya think the Kadhamiya people want to control their area and conduct sectarian cleansing."

Witnesses said circumstances in the district are desperate. Ambulances waited at checkpoints to ferry doctors and nurses to area hospitals.

"There were no cars and no one walking in the main streets," said Alaa Mohammed Ali, a 47-year-old dealer in electrical appliances, as he left the area on foot. "Most of the families are trapped in their homes. I saw some women standing outside their homes asking for the whereabouts of their sons."

Later, Gen. Mohammed Abdul-Razzaq, an Iraqi Defense Ministry spokesman, condemned the attacks and delivered a stern warning to residents who have begun organizing themselves into neighborhood militias.

"These types of actions do none of you any good," he said in a statement. "In the future, if such actions happen the army will use force in its true sense."

Elsewhere in the capital yesterday, roadside bombs killed at least three Iraqis and injured 26 others. Authorities found the bodies of 15 men, their hands bound behind their backs and shot in the back of the head.

Lawlessness has also increased over the past two days in Kirkuk, a northern city contested by ethnic Kurds, Arabs and Turkomen.

Yesterday, suspected insurgents shot to death an Iraqi soldier, fired mortar rounds at an Iraqi army base and blew up a passing police vehicle convoy, injuring two officers, said Capt. Abbas Khaled of the Kirkuk police. A day earlier, gunmen ambushed cars on the road outside Kirkuk, killing a civilian and injuring three.

Borzou Daragahi and Shamil Aziz write for the Los Angeles Times.

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