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Page last updated at 13:51 GMT, Sunday, 6 April 2008 14:51 UK

US forces clash with Iraq militia

Iraqi army vehicle on fire in Sadr City area of Baghdad, 6 April 08
An Iraqi army vehicle was set ablaze in the clashes

Twenty people were killed in clashes in Baghdad between members of the Mehdi Army militia group and US and Iraqi forces, Iraqi medical workers say.

Iraqi officials said women and children were among the dead and more than 50 wounded in the Sadr City district. The US says nine "criminals" were killed.

The mainly Shia area of east Baghdad is a stronghold of the Mehdi Army.

The militia's leader, the cleric Moqtada Sadr, has called for a mass demonstration against the US presence.

In a statement, the US military said it had carried out an air strike in Sadr City at about 0800 local time (0500 GMT) in which nine "criminals" were killed.

US commanders have previously said their forces are targeting those firing mortars and rockets from Sadr City into Baghdad's fortified Green Zone, where the Iraqi government and the US embassy are based.

On Saturday, the Iraqi president, prime minister and other political leaders called for militias to be disbanded.

Analysts said the call was aimed mainly at the Mehdi Army, which was recently involved in heavy fighting with the security forces across southern Iraq.

The clashes eased after Moqtada Sadr ordered his fighters off the streets but sporadic fire fights continue, especially in Sadr City.

Students freed

Sunday also saw Iraq's security forces report that they had freed 42 university students hours after they were kidnapped by gunmen near the northern city of Mosul.

Map showing Mosul
The male students were on two buses ferrying them to Mosul from their homes in Shurkat, 70 km (40 miles) further south, when they were ambushed and captured.

Mosul, some 360km north-west of Baghdad, has recently been the scene of extra security effort as US and Iraqi forces try to stop violence in cities outside the capital.

Also on Sunday, hundreds of mourners attended the funeral of Father Youssef Adel in the capital's Karradah district.

The Assyrian Orthodox priest was killed on Saturday at his home.

One of the mourners, Midhat Faez, was quoted as saying the assassination was aimed at provoking conflict between Muslims and the tiny Christian community.



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