Clash between ex-insurgents, Al Qaeda in Iraq kills 18

Former Sunni insurgents asked the US to stay away, then ambushed members of Al Qaeda in Iraq, killing 18 in a battle that raged for hours north of Baghdad, an ex-insurgent leader and Iraqi police said Saturday.Fighters of the Islamic Army in Iraq staged the surprise attack Friday afternoon near Samarra – sending advance word to Iraqi police and requesting that US helicopters stay away, since the fighters had no uniforms and were indistinguishable from Al Qaeda.

Much of the Islamic Army in Iraq has joined the US-led fight against Al Qaeda in Iraq, along with Sunni tribesmen and other former insurgents repelled by the terror group’s brutality and extremism.

A top Islamic Army leader known as Abu Ibrahim told the Associated Press that his fighters attacked Al Qaeda southeast of Samarra, a mostly Sunni city about 90 kilometres north of Baghdad.

“We found out that Al Qaeda intended to attack us, so we ambushed them at 3:00pm on Friday,” Abu Ibrahim said. He said 18 fighters were killed and 16 captured, but would not say whether any Islamic Army members were killed.

An Iraqi police officer corroborated Abu Ibrahim’s account, but said policemen were not able to verify the number of bodies because the area was still too dangerous to enter. He said the hostages would not be transferred to Iraqi police.

Instead, he said he believed the Islamic Army would offer a prisoner swap for some of its members held by Al Qaeda. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity because of the situation’s sensitivity.

Before the battle, the insurgent commander contacted Iraqi police in Samarra himself to tell them his plans, according to the officer and Abu Ibrahim himself. He asked that Iraqi authorities inform the American military about his plans, and requested that no US troops interfere, they said.

The US military said Saturday it had no record of US troops ever being informed about the operation, and it was unclear whether Iraqi police followed through on Abu Ibrahim’s request.

Meanwhile, farther east in Diyala province, members of another former insurgent group, the 1920s Revolution Brigades, launched a military-style operation Saturday against Al Qaeda in Iraq there, the Iraqi Army said.

About 60 fighters were captured and handed over to Iraqi soldiers, an army officer said on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to speak to media. Afterward, hundreds of people paraded through the streets of Buhriz, about 60 kilometres north of Baghdad, witnesses said. Many danced and fired their guns into the air, shouting “Down with Al Qaeda!” and “Diyala is for all Iraqis!”

Also Saturday, the US military announced the death of another American soldier, killed a day earlier in an explosion in Diyala. Three others were wounded in the blast, it said.

At least 3,861 members of the US military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an AP count.

The military also said its troops detained 10 suspects in raids Saturday across central and northern parts of the country.

Twenty people were killed or found dead across Iraq on Saturday, including four civilians who died on minibuses hit by roadside bombs on their way to work, police said.

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