Baghdad shopkeepers strike back, killing three militants

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Shopkeepers and residents on one of Baghdad's main streets pulled out their own guns Tuesday and killed three insurgents when hooded men began shooting at passers-by, giving a rare victory to civilians increasingly frustrated by the violence bleeding Iraq.

The clash in the capital's southern Doura neighborhood erupted when militants in three cars sprayed bullets at shoppers, Interior Ministry officials said. Three people -- a man, a woman and a child -- were wounded.

The motive was unclear, but there have been previous attacks in the ethnically mixed neighborhood. Earlier in the day, gunmen in the same quarter killed a policeman as he drove to work, police Lt. Col. Hafidh Al-Ghrayri said.

A forceful citizen response is rare, but not unheard of in a country where conflict has become commonplace and the law allows each home to have a weapon. Early this month, police said townsmen in Wihda, 25 miles south of Baghdad, attacked a group of militants believed planning to raid the town and killed seven.

Tuesday's gunbattle came as a seven-member U.S. congressional delegation paid a one-day visit to Baghdad, and the man expected to serve as the next prime minister, Shiite politician Ibrahim al-Jaafari, reportedly told the group he is in no hurry for U.S. troops to leave Iraq.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, a Democrat from California who strongly opposed the war, said al-Jaafari didn't seem as "upbeat as our people, who seem to be very excited about the quality of the Iraqi police force."

"My sense was he was certainly in no rush to hand over security to his new police force," she said.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., agreed, saying that "it's too early to declare success." But Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., expressed "quiet optimism" about Iraq's future.

Iraq's current prime minister, Iyad Allawi, urged the new National Assembly to speed negotiations on forming a coalition government "so as to resume the operation of rebuilding Iraq in all fields."

Seeking to seal a political deal, the Shiite clergy's spiritual leader in Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, was expected to meet Wednesday with Jalal Talabani, the Kurdish leader likely to become the country's next president.

Elections on Jan. 30 gave the biggest bloc of seats to a Shiite alliance backed by al-Sistani, but it doesn't have enough votes to select a Cabinet on its own and is negotiating for the support of the Kurds, the second-largest group in the National Assembly.

The Kurds want an agreement to return the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk to the autonomous Kurdish region as soon as the government is installed. But an official from al-Sistani's office said ayatollah wants that issue dealt with in the constitution to be drafted by the assembly.

Ousted dictator Saddam Hussein had Kurds forcibly removed from Kirkuk and the surrounding area and moved in Iraqi Arabs to strengthen his control of the oil fields.

In other violence Tuesday, Iraqi commandos backed by U.S. ground and air fire attacked an apparent insurgent training camp near Lake Tharthar in eastern Iraq, killing an undetermined number of militants and capturing 20, the U.S. military said. Seven commandos were reported dead and six wounded.

And in the northern city of Mosul, the deputy police commander, Col. Wathiq Ali, said 17 militants were killed and 14 captured late Monday after during an assassination attempt on police officials.

Also in Mosul, a roadside bomb that exploded near a U.S. patrol killed four civilians. It wasn't immediately clear if the troops suffered casualties.

In the southern city of Kut, morgue officials said they had received a half dozen corpses of Iraqi army soldiers, each with bound hands and bullet-riddled heads and torsos. Six Iraqi soldiers were reported kidnapped Monday in Anbar province, west of Baghdad, police said.

The insurgents, believed made up mostly of people from the Sunni Arab minority that dominated during Saddam's reign, consider Iraqi police and government officials traitors for working with U.S.-led coalition forces.

The U.S. military reported that a Marine died Monday in Anbar province, which contains the flashpoint cities of Fallujah and Ramadi. No further details were given.

Seeking to mend soured relations with Jordan, Iraq's national security adviser, Mouwafak al-Rubaie, said his nation's ambassador to Jordan would return to Amman "as soon as practically possible." The announcement came a day after King Abdullah II ordered Jordan's top diplomat in Iraq to return to Baghdad.

Both countries withdrew their envoys Sunday in a dispute over the infiltration of Jordanian insurgents across their common border.

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