Iraqi police, Mehdi militia clash despite truce
Kut (Iraq), March 15, 2008
Members of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr's Mehdi Army militia clashed with Iraqi police in the southern city of Kut on Friday, a day after a close Sadr aide ordered militiamen to abide by a ceasefire, police said.
The militiamen clashed with Iraqi and US soldiers earlier this week in Kut, 170 kilometres southeast of Baghdad, sparking concerns a ceasefire may unravel and lead to an upsurge in violence.
Capt. Majed al-Amara said two policemen were killed and 10 people wounded. "I'm not able to fight the gunmen with the few troops I have," said Lieutenant Aziz Al Amara, who commands a rapid reaction unit.
Police said mortars and small arms were used in the clashes, which took place in the Izzeh, Sharqia, and Hawia districts of the city. One police car was set ablaze.
The fighting on Friday started soon after the end of the funerals of men killed on Tuesday. Sadr, whose militia fought two battles against US forces in southern Iraq in 2004, extended a seven-month-old ceasefire last month, but at the weekend issued a statement telling followers they could defend themselves if attacked.
Gun battles in Kut killed a total of 11 people on Tuesday, according to the city's police chief, prompting US special forces to call in air strikes after requests from Iraqi authorities for help.
Violence has dropped across Iraq by 60 per cent since last June when an extra 30,000 US troops became fully deployed. But attacks continue, particularly in Iraq's north where Al Qaeda has regrouped.
Meanwhile, hundreds of Iraqi Christians mourned the death of kidnapped Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho. The abduction and death of Rahho, 65, was the most high-profile attack on Iraq's Christians since the US-led invasion in 2003.
It drew international condemnation, including from US President George W. Bush and Pope Benedict. Hundreds of mostly Christian mourners crowded into the Mar Eddy church in Rahho's home village of Kramleis, east of Mosul to pay their last respects.-Reuters