53 Al Qaeda militants, 14 others killed across Iraq
* Curfew in Baghdad for Saddam verdict
BAGHDAD: Iraqi police commandos killed 53 suspected Al Qaeda militants in a fierce gunbattle on the southern outskirts of Baghdad on Saturday, said an Interior Ministry spokesman, while 14 people were killed in violence across the country.
“This afternoon we received intelligence reports that gunmen were endangering the security of the region,” said Brigadier General Abdel Karim Khalaf, referring to the Baghdad suburb of Tuwaitha. “They are Al-Qaeda.”
“The national police had a severe fight with them and as a result of these clashes, they killed 53 terrorists, arrested 16, burned 40 cars and seized many weapons,” he said.
A US military spokeswoman said there had been a clash and that American liaison officers were on the scene following the fighting, but she could not immediately confirm either details of the fight or the casualty toll.
Iraq also braced itself on Saturday for a violent backlash from Saddam Hussein’s remaining supporters if, as expected, the ousted leader is sentenced to death in his trial for crimes against humanity.
National Security Adviser Muwaffaq Al-Rubaie said a curfew would be in force on Sunday in Baghdad and the flashpoint provinces of Diyala and Salaheddin, which contains the deposed dictator’s hometown of Tikrit, on the verdict day.
State television said all pedestrian and road traffic would be banned indefinitely from 6am on Sunday and the international airport shut, before the televised trial hearing begins.
Iraq has also cancelled all military leave and put its armed forces on alert to prevent violence before or after Sunday’s ruling.
“All military personnel are on alert. Leave has been cancelled and we are on alert for any possible emergency. Those on leave should report to their units,” said defence ministry spokesman Major General Ibrahim Shaker.
Baghdad, which is already reeling under a brutal campaign of insurgent and sectarian violence, will be virtually sealed off on Sunday.
Iraqi authorities fear that Sunni Arab supporters of the ousted president will carry out attacks against the dominant Shia community.
Meanwhile on Saturday, a car bomb exploded in the Sadr City suburb of mainly Shia east Baghdad, said a security official as violence in and around the Iraqi capital killed at least eight people in a series of gun and bomb attacks.
Five members of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani’s security detail were killed in a roadside bomb attack on Friday in northern Iraq, a source from his party said.
Shia militia are the main suspects for a rocket attack on Saturday, which wounded four Russians and killed an Iraqi colleague working for the Basra Electricity Company.
British military spokesman Major Charlie Burbridge said mortars or rockets had been fired at a nearby British base, but had fallen short and hit the power plant. Police said one Iraqi worker was killed.
Military bases in Basra and elsewhere in southern Iraq regularly come under rocket and mortar attack from Shiite militias connected to political and tribal factions in the city.
A gunbattle also erupted in Baghdad during the early hours of Saturday as US and Iraq forces raided the Shiite bastion of Sadr City and detained three suspects.
The US military said the raid was aimed at capturing a leader and member of a group that had killed “innocent Iraqi citizens and security forces”.
There were no casualties among the joint force, it added, but gave no details on whether any militants or civilians had been hurt. Separately, one civilian was killed and seven were wounded on Saturday when a bicycle bomb exploded at a petrol station in the town of Suweira, while three corpses were also retrieved from the nearby Tigris River. afp