US-backed Iraqi troops quell Baghdad uprising
US-backed Iraqi forces swept through a central Baghdad slum Sunday, disarming Sunnis from a government-allied paramilitary group to quell a two-day uprising launched to protest the arrest of their leader.
At least four people were killed and 21 wounded in the two days of fighting between government troops and the Awakening Council in Fadhil, a ramshackle warren of narrow, fetid streets on the east side of the Tigris River where al-Qaeda once held sway.
The confrontation in Fadhil could be explosive if it leads to a split between the Shia-led government and the Awakening Councils, made up of Sunnis who abandoned al-Qaeda and joined forces with the Americans to fight the insurgents.
Distrust runs deep between the Shia-led government and the Awakening Councils, which the US calls Sons of Iraq, because many of them are ex-insurgents. There have been fears that some fighters may return to the insurgency if they feel threatened by the government.
That could undermine US plans to remove all combat troops from Baghdad and other cities by the end of June and end the US combat role in Iraq by September 2010.
Members of the Fadhil council said Sunday they decided to give up the fight and hand over their weapons to spare the neighbourhood, whose bullet-pocked buildings bore witness to intense combat there two years ago.
Most of the top council members fled the neighbourhood as Iraqi troops searched house-to-house, according to residents who spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared for their safety.
Nevertheless, a few fighters were still holding out. An Iraqi patrol, accompanied by an Associated Press photo and video team, came under heavy fire, sending them ducking for cover as bullets sheared off bits of mortar from the buildings lining the narrow alleyway.
Members of the councils maintain that they are being unfairly singled out and targeted by the Shia-dominated security forces because they are Sunnis. Last Thursday, an Awakening Council commander in west Baghdad, Raad Mohammed Hussein, was arrested by Iraqi soldiers.
"In our view, all these arrests and assassinations ... is part of Iran's plan to dominate Iraq," said Shogaa al-Aazami, commander of an Awakening Council in west Baghdad. "We think the arrests and the assassinations will continue."