Clashes between militants, security forces kill 50 in Iraq


Baghdad : Armed clashes between militants and security forces during the festivities leading up to the Shia community’s Ashura celebrations caused numerous deaths in two southern Iraqi cities.

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At least 50 people died and 60 were injured, including security officers, in the city of Nassiriya, the Voice of Iraq (Aswat al-Iraq) agency reported.

The gunmen were identified as members of the Ansar Ahmad al-Yamani group, VOI quoted a police source as saying Friday.

The source said the dead included Colonel Nagi Rustom, chief of the emergency police force in the city, and Colonel Zamel Khazaal Badr, deputy chief of the criminal intelligence.

Nassiriya, the capital of Dhi Qar province, is 390 km south of Baghdad.

In the southern port city of Basra, militia blocked the street and attacked a group of police officers. Al Arabiya broadcaster reported at least two police officers had been killed, and several passers-by had been injured.

VOI reported that police officers had killed the leader of the radical Shia group Soldiers of Heaven, Abu Mustafa al-Ansari, and arrested dozens of his supporters.

The city’s police chief, General Abdul Chalaf, declared that the attackers were not members of the Mahdi army – the militia of the Muslim preacher Muktada al-Sadr – but rather belonged to a smaller group.

“We have the situation in hand and are pursuing them from house to house,” he said.

Shia Muslims were in many southern Iraqi cities Friday ahead of the weekend’s religious festival of Ashura, during which they undertake pilgrimages to a shrine held to be the tomb of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, who was killed in the Battle of Karbala in 680 AD.

From Thursday to early Friday, at least 26 Iraqis including suspected members of the Al Qaeda terrorist network were killed in separate incidents around Iraq, US statements and Iraqi officials said.