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Geronimo
06-29-2006, 04:34 PM
US, Iraqi forces clash with Shi'ite militia

BAQUBA, Iraq (Reuters) - Iraqi and U.S. troops battled Shi'ite militiamen in a village northeast of Baghdad on Thursday, and witnesses and police said U.S. helicopters bombed orchards to flush out gunmen hiding in the palm groves.

Iraqi security officials said Iranian fighters had been captured in the fighting, in which the commander of an Iraqi quick reaction force and two soldiers were shot dead by a sniper. They did not say how the Iranians had been identified.

The U.S. military had no immediate comment.

Police said the fighting was still going on at 6 p.m. (1400 GMT) in the predominantly Shi'ite village of Khairnabat, 3 km (two miles) north of Baquba, capital of Diyala province. Local residents reported hearing shooting and explosions.

A bomb in the town's main market killed 18 people on Monday. On Wednesday, Shi'ite militiamen fired mortars at a Sunni mosque in nearby Miqdadiya, destroying the building and 20 shops.

Police said the mosque attack and other attacks on Sunnis in Khairnabat itself persuaded Sunnis that it would be safer to leave the village. But as a convoy of vehicles was leaving on Thursday, "gunmen surrounded them and started shooting," a captain in Diyala's police intelligence unit told Reuters.

Baquba's quick reaction force, an Interior Ministry unit, responded and clashed with the fighters, the captain said. Iraqi and U.S. military reinforcements then arrived and sealed off the village.

Police and witnesses said U.S. helicopters had bombed orchards where militiamen were believed to be hiding.

"IRANIAN PRISONERS"

The captain and other Interior Ministry sources said the commander of the quick reaction force, Colonel Sami Hussein, and two other soldiers were killed by a sniper.

No other casualties were reported from the clashes and police said it was not clear how many civilians had been killed or wounded in the initial shooting at the convoy. The wounded were taken to a hospital in Baquba.

"We captured a number of militants and were surprised to see that some of them were Iranian fighters," the police intelligence captain said.

An Interior Ministry official, who did not want to be named, also said Iranian gunmen had been captured.

The United States and Britain have accused Shi'ite Iran of meddling in Iraq's affairs and providing military assistance to Iraq's pro-government Shi'ite militias. However, there have been few instances of Iranians actually being captured inside Iraq.

Among Shi'ite militants are Iraqis who grew up in refugee camps in Iran and are often described by Iraqi compatriots as "Iranians" because of their accented Arabic.

Police have said Shi'ite fighters in the area belong to the Mehdi Army of radical, Iranian-backed cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Sadr's movement, which staged two uprisings against occupying troops in 2004, denies being behind sectarian violence.

Diyala, where al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed earlier this month, has seen much sectarian violence among its diverse population. A number of Shi'ite shrines were destroyed in attacks there six weeks ago.

(Additional reporting by Ross Colvin, Mohammed Ramahi and Hiba Moussa in Baghdad)
_________________
If you have no capacity for violence then you are a healthy productive citizen, a sheep. If you have a capacity for violence and no empathy for your fellow citizens, then you have defined an aggressive sociopath, a wolf. But what if you have a capacity for violence, and a deep love for your fellow citizens? . . . [You are a] sheepdog . . . "

"The sheep generally do not like the sheepdog. He looks a lot like the wolf. He has fangs and the capacity for violence. The difference, though, is that the sheepdog must not, cannot and will not ever harm the sheep. Any sheep dog who intentionally harms the lowliest little lamb will be punished and removed. The world cannot work any other way, at least not in a representative democracy or a republic such as ours."
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