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Sunday, March 29, 2009

US-backed Iraqi forces end 'Sahwa' clashes

Sun, 29 Mar 2009 20:10:31 GMT | PressTV

Iraqi soldiers during search operations in al-Fadel,
Iraqi forces, backed by US troops, take control of Baghdad's Fadel neighborhood, after two days of heavy clashes with Sunni fighters.

The clashes started after Iraqi forces arrested 'Awakening Council' leader, Adil al-Mashhadani, and at least one of his men, on terror-related charges in Baghdad's central district of al-Fadel.

Al-Sahwa or Awakening members are mostly former Sunni insurgents who fought US and Iraqi forces after the 2003 US-led invasion of the country, but helped curb violence since late 2006 when they sided with the Iraqi government to battle al-Qaeda following its harsh rhetoric and attacks against Iraqi civilians.

Witnesses said that Iraqi police and army forces asked inhabitants to hand over their weapons. They also said that most of the top council members fled the neighborhood as Iraqi troops conducted a house-to-house search.

Members of the Awakening council in Fadel said Sunday that they decided to give up the fight and hand over their weapons to spare the neighborhood.

Qassem Ata, spokesman for the Iraqi security forces in Baghdad said, "Al-Mashhadani is only a suspect. He will stand trial and he can present evidence of his innocence".

US officials have said a dangerous situation could arise should Maliki's government fail to bring about reconciliation with the former Sunni Arab fighters. However, they say that Iraq has the right to detain those accused of grave charges in the past, such as murder or terrorism.

At least four people were killed and 21 wounded in the two days of fighting between government troops and the Awakening Council fighters.

In recent months, Awakening Council members have been complaining they are disregarded and mistreated by the Iraqi leadership. The group has also blamed Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki for failing to fulfill his promise to integrate 20 percent of the Awakening Councils into the Iraqi security forces.

Al-Mashhadani himself had recently warned fighters could turn against the Iraqi government.

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