Toll in clashes between Iraqi forces, Shiite fighters rises to 73

news33.jpgBAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq’s prime minister issued a fresh call Tuesday for armed groups to be dissolved after his office raised the death toll in fighting between government forces and Shiite fighters to 73.

Although calm prevailed in the Shiite city of Diwaniyah, the 23 soldiers and 50 fighters the government said were killed was significantly higher than the total death toll of 40 people that officials had reported on Monday.

Diwaniyah’s streets were quiet, but an explosion at an oil pipeline south of the city left at least 27 people dead.

The cause of the blast was unclear, but locals have been siphoning off fuel from the pipeline for years, officials said.

In the capital, Iraqi police found the bodies of 27 people who had apparently been tortured and shot before being dumped in three locations in Baghdad, police said.

Three separate mortar attacks in the predominantly Sunni neighbourhood’s of Amil in the south and northwest Muwasalat also killed seven people. A roadside bomb killed another person in Amil and a mortar killed one man in Mahmoudiya.

The US military said Tuesday that three US soldiers and one Marine also died on Monday, two in fighting in the restive Anbar province and two from non-hostile causes.

Another soldier was killed on Tuesday afternoon southwest of Baghdad when the vehicle he was travelling in was hit by a roadside bomb, the military said.

The military earlier reported that eight other soldiers also died Sunday in and around Baghdad, making it one of the deadliest days of the US military in recent months.

Prime Minister Nuri Maliki condemned the violence in Diwaniyah, 130 kilometres south of Baghdad. It was the worst fighting in recent months between the Iraqi army and Shiite fighters loyal to firebrand anti-US cleric Moqtada Sadr.

In an announcement, he called on Iraqis “to cooperate with our military forces, police and army, to achieve security and stability and eliminate the phenomenon of gunmen,” a reference to armed groups.

Maliki issued the announcement in his role as general commander of the Iraq armed forces.

“Iraqi military forces managed to control the situation in Diwaniyah and restore peace to the city which witnessed regretful acts carried out by lawless elements,” the announcement said.

The head of the country’s largest Shiite party, Abdul Aziz Hakim, also condemned the fighting and said it should be prevented in the future.

“What took place in Diwaniyah, of fighting in this manner, was annoying and painful, because it was unjustified killing of Iraqis who were not Takfiri nor Saddamists. We hope that such events will not be repeated and should be tackled and contained,” he told the Associated Press in an interview.

In an apparently unrelated incident in the northern town of Baqouba, three mortars, two rocket-propelled grenades and a bomb exploded at a Sadr office almost simultaneously, killing two guards and destroying the building, police said.

The violence in Diwaniyah ended Monday afternoon after the provincial governor, accompanied by eight provincial council members, travelled to the holy city of Najaf, west of Diwaniyah, to meet with Sadr.

Officials said an agreement was reached by both parties to restore security to the province. But the exact details of the deal were unclear.

Sadr’s influence has gradually been increasing in Shiite-dominated Diwaniyah. He is already popular in large parts of southern Iraq, particularly in Najaf and the surrounding area. He also wields considerable influence in some areas of Baghdad, especially in the slum of Sadr City.

Eleven bullet-riddled corpses, with their hands and legs bound, were found near a school in the Shiite dominated Maalif neighbourhood in southern Baghdad, police said.

The bodies of another 13 people, believed to have been aged between 25 and 35, were found dumped behind a Shiite mosque in the Turath neighbourhood in western Baghdad.

Another three were dumped in the upscale Mansour neighbourhood.

In Kut, 160 kilometres southeast of Baghdad, Hadi Atabi of the city morgue said four beheaded corpses, one of them believed to be that of an Iraqi army soldier, were brought in on Tuesday evening. The bodies had been found on the bank of the Tigris River at Suwayrah, 40 kilometres south of Baghdad.

In other violence, according to police.

— Gunmen in Baqouba, north of Baghdad, killed three mobile phone salesmen, while three bodies were found in southern Kut.

— Gunmen killed two civilians and wounded other in a drive-by shooting in northern Mosul.

— A 10-year-old boy was killed by the crossfire during a shootout between police and gunmen in southern Basra.

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