Iraqi gang blamed in deadly attack on police

At least 7 officers killed

crackdown planned on groups in Diwaniya

October 18, 2007|By Ned Parker | Ned Parker,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD -- A roadside bomb exploded near a police patrol yesterday, killing at least seven officers in a Shiite area south of Baghdad that has seen fierce clashes between rival militia factions.

Maj. Gen. Abdul Kareem Khalaf, an Interior Ministry spokesman, said the attackers were members of a criminal gang and suggested that they formerly had claimed ties to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia.

Al-Sadr's militia declared a freeze on operations in August after a clash in Karbala with a rival Shiite faction left at least 50 people dead. Since then, Khalaf said, some gunmen who had identified themselves with the Mahdi Army no longer can use it as a cover.

"Now they are acting on their own," he said.

He said security forces were planning to confront these gangs, starting in the city of Diwaniya, the site of several violent clashes in recent months. Iraqi police and soldiers met with Polish troops Tuesday to discuss ways to tame violence in the city.

The deaths of the police officers came after five civilians were killed and 20 wounded in clashes Monday between Shiite militants and military forces in Diwaniya.

Two previously unknown Shiite militant groups, the Imam Hussein Brigades and Imam Mussa al-Kadhim Brigades, have claimed responsibility for a bombing this month targeting the Polish ambassador in Baghdad and a second car bomb blast near the Polish Embassy, according to a video statement obtained Sunday by Reuters news service. The groups said the attacks were carried out in response to killings and arrests by Polish troops in Diwaniya. An estimated 900 Polish troops are stationed in Qadisiyah province, where Diwaniya is located.

A resident speaking on condition of anonymity said the brigades were spearheading violence in Diwaniya. The groups are made up of residents, some of whom have been linked to drug and prostitution rings, he said.

The resident said the militants had used the Mahdi Army name to carry out their activities until the militia broke with them.

"They were saying they were Mahdi Army, but they were just thugs and criminals," he said. "Now they can't use that name, so they are calling themselves the Imam Mussa al-Kadhim and Hussein brigades."

He said the Mahdi Army was weak locally in comparison with these groups, and he blamed recent violence in Diwaniya, including the August assassination of the province's governor, on the new factions.

Ned Parker writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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