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Al Qaida, Sunni Militants Clash in Baghdad


Iraqis in a predominantly Sunni neighborhood of Baghdad say Sunni insurgents and al-Qaida militants have been fighting there for the last two days. Few details have been reported about the clashes, but VOA's Barry Newhouse reports the fighting comes as U.S. commanders say they are pursuing new strategies to isolate al-Qaida-linked groups.

Residents of Baghdad's Amiriya neighborhood say fighters from outside Baghdad began pouring into the area Wednesday, sparking street battles. There are estimates that as many as 20 people have been killed in the fighting. Residents have told Iraqi media that local Sunni militant groups, angered by al-Qaida attacks on local Sunni leaders, have vowed to expel the group from the area.

The fighting comes as Iraqi government ministries announced that nearly 2,000 Iraqi civilians were killed in May, an increase of some 30 percent since April. Iraqi news media report that at least 44 bodies bearing signs of torture have been found in Baghdad since early Thursday.

As U.S. forces continue to arrive in the capital for the ongoing security operation, U.S. commanders are pursuing alliances with some Sunni tribal leaders to try and marginalize al-Qaida militants. Commanders in al-Anbar province are reporting that in recent months local tribal fighters have joined police and Iraqi army forces, stepping up attacks on al-Qaida groups.

Iraqi political leaders are also pursuing a strategy of creating councils of tribal leaders to bring security outside of the capital. On Friday, the deputy speaker of Iraq's parliament Khaled al-Atiya met with tribal leaders in southern Diwaniya province, a predominantly Shi'ite area.

He says his visit to Diwaniya had two purposes, to meet the people of Diwaniya and to talk about the security problems they face.

Also Friday, the powerful Shi'ite cleric Abdel Aziz al-Hakim of the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq returned to his home in Najaf after seeking treatment for lung cancer in the United States and Iran. Hakim, who heads of one of the most powerful parties in the parliament, spent nearly two weeks abroad.