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Page last updated at 17:29 GMT, Saturday, 28 March 2009

Iraq battle after militia arrest

Members of an Awakening group in a Baghdad suburb in October 2007
There are estimated to be 100,000 Awakening members nationwide

Two passers-by have died in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, after clashes between security forces and one of the militias which are backed by US forces.

The gun battle in the Fadil district of the city erupted shortly after the leader of the local Awakening group, Adil Mashadani, was arrested.

One account says US troops helped with the arrest alongside the Iraqi army.

Fadil was run by al-Qaeda in Iraq for most of 2006 and 2007, but they were driven out by the Awakening movement.

Baghdad security spokesman Qassim Moussawi told Reuters news agency: "Iraqi forces arrested Mashadani because they had a judicial warrant. The clashes started because of this."

Children playing

The BBC's Hugh Sykes happened to be in Fadil a few hours before the gun battle and he says the neighbourhood seemed calm and normal.

People were out shopping, fresh fish was on sale on a cart in the shade and children were playing.

He says it is an impoverished district where many buildings are bullet-pocked from the days when al-Qaeda menaced the mostly Shia neighbourhoods nearby.

No reason has yet been given for the arrest of Mr Mashadani - but his detention may destabilise Fadil unless it is satisfactorily explained, adds our correspondent.

The Awakening - or Sons of Iraq, as the Americans call them - mostly consist of Sunni Arab fighters who used to work with al-Qaeda.

They have been credited with helping drastically reduce violence, flushing out Sunni Islamist al-Qaeda from parts of Baghdad, western Anbar province and some northern towns.

There are estimated to be around 100,000 Awakening members nationwide and they were paid by the US military until last year when the Iraqi government began taking over the programme.

Analysts say the Shia-led government's handling of the Sunni Arab fighters it once fought against will be a key test of efforts to stabilise Iraq as the US prepares to withdraw its combat troops by August 2010.



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