At least 50 killed in clashes between Iraqi troops, Shiite gunmen

By Xinhua

Baghdad : Iraq’s security forces clashed with gunmen of a Shiite militia in the southern city of Nassiriya on Friday, leaving at least 50 people dead, security and health sources said.

Support TwoCircles

The sources said more than 70 were also wounded in the clashes between members of the so-called “Soldiers of Heaven” and Iraqi security troops in the capital city of Dhi Qar province, some 390 km south of Baghdad.

Among the dead were Colonel Naji Rostam al-Jabiry, commander of Nassiriya’s emergency troops. and Colonel Zamil Bader al-Romadl, deputy chief of the criminal intelligence.

Militants of the group also launched an attack on police in the southern city of Basra, a local police source said, adding dozens of gunmen were killed or captured in the clash.

Abu Mustafa al-Ansary, a leader of the militia group, was killed while three policemen died in the trade of fire, according to the source.

The provinces in southern Iraq have been largely spared sectarian or al-Qaida-related violences, but plagued by Shiite militias and criminal groups.

British forces handed over the security of Basra province to Iraq in December 2007, but remains some 5,000 troops stationed near the Basra city. It plans a drawdown by half from spring.

The latest clashes in the provinces came as the Shiites are observing the Ashura festival, which will reach its climax on Saturday.

About two million devotees are expected to turn out in the holy city of Karbara, 110 km south of Baghdad, to commemorate the death of Imam al-Hussein.

The city saw a bloodshed last August when Shiite militants and security troops exchanged fire, in which more than 50 people were killed and hundreds wounded.

A curfew has been imposed in nine southern provinces as well as in the capital Baghdad and a northern Diyala province to prevent bombing attacks and other possible violences.