Iranian fighters caught with Shia militia in battle north of Baghdad

Reuters:

Iraqi and U.S. troops battled Shi'ite militiamen in a village northeast of Baghdad on Thursday, and witnesses and police said U.S. helicopters bombed orchards to flush out gunmen hiding there.

Iraqi security officials said Iranian fighters had been captured in the fighting, in which a sniper shot dead the commander of an Iraqi quick reaction force and two of his men. They did not say how the Iranians had been identified.

...

The fighting between Iraqi and U.S. troops and Shi'ite militias was taking place in the predominantly Shi'ite village of Khairnabat, outside Baquba, capital of Diyala province.

Local residents reported hearing shooting and explosions.

A bomb in the town's main market killed 18 people on Monday. On Wednesday, Shi'ite militiamen fired mortars at a Sunni mosque in nearby Miqdadiya, destroying the building and 20 shops.

Police said the mosque attack and other attacks on Sunnis in Khairnabat itself persuaded Sunnis that it would be safer to leave the village. But as a convoy of vehicles was leaving on Thursday, "gunmen surrounded them and started shooting," a captain in Diyala's police intelligence unit told Reuters.

Baquba's quick reaction force, an Interior Ministry unit, responded and clashed with the fighters, the captain said. Iraqi and U.S. reinforcements then arrived and sealed off the village.

Police and witnesses said U.S. helicopters had bombed orchards where militiamen were believed to be hiding under date palms. Police said the bombing continued as night fell.

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"We captured a number of militants and were surprised to see that some of them were Iranian fighters," the police intelligence captain said.

An Interior Ministry official, who did not want to be named, also said Iranian gunmen had been captured. Baquba lies 90 km (60 miles) from the Iranian border.

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Police have said Shi'ite fighters in the area belong to the Mehdi Army of radical, Iranian-backed cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Sadr's movement, which staged two uprisings against occupying troops in 2004, denies being behind sectarian violence.

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While the capture of the Iranian is interesting the real significance of this story is that the Iraqi army is standing up to the Shia militias and is winning. That is importnat for the success of any Iraqi government. They have to destroy the war lords and their armies. There is a lot of good news for Iraq in this story. It will also be interesting what intelligence they get from the captives including the Iranian.

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