U.S. launches major offensive against Sadr's Mahdi forces in Diwaniya; Local security ordered to stay at home, curfew imposed
Above: Members of local security forces in Diwaniya following graduation in 2005. Left: Colored box shows Al Qadisiyah province. Diwaniya is the capital city of Al Qadisiyah. In 2002, its population was estimated at 420,000. The town is located on the main rail transport corridor between Baghdad and Basra. Today's operation is code named 'Black Eagle'.
DIWANIYA, Iraq (Reuters) - Iraqi and U.S. forces clashed with Shi'ite militia loyal to radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr as they launched a major operation at dawn on Friday to return the volatile city of Diwaniya to government control...
An Iraqi security source said Iraqi and U.S. troops fought militiamen in districts in southeast Diwaniya, a stronghold of Sadr's Mehdi Army, accused by Washington of driving Iraq towards civil war through attacks on Sunni Muslims. A local hospital said at least one person had been killed and 15 wounded...
The Mehdi Army is a powerful force in Diwaniya, 180 km (110 miles) south of Baghdad, where U.S. and Iraqi forces have fought militiamen in past months. Forty people were killed in fierce fighting in street battles in October...
The Iraqi security source told Reuters that all police in Diwaniya, who are suspected of being infiltrated by Mehdi Army militia, had been ordered to stay at home.
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Planes drop leaflets, roads sealed off, shelling reported
Diwaniya, Apr. 6 (VOI) - The media spokesman for al-Sadr's office denied on Friday reports being circulated that 30 elements from Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi army had been killed, while a police source said that U.S. aircraft dropped leaflets urging local police forces not to carry weapons in streets and obey the Iraqi army orders and to impose a night curfew on the Diwaniya city, 180 km south of Baghdad.
"Reports on the killing of 30 Mahdi army's elements were baseless, the army is combating against occupation forces," the spokesman for al-Sadr's office in Diwaniya told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI) over the phone.
"The forces wounded two fighters and captured two others," he added.
"Clashes are underway in areas in north of Diwaniya in al-Askari, al-Hadaba, Jumhouri neighborhoods," the spokesman noted.
Meanwhile, a police source said that U.S. aircraft dropped leaflets that warn local police forces from carrying weapons in streets and ask them to get their orders from the Iraqi army.
More than once, U.S. and Iraqi official reports talked about police infiltration by militiamen.
From early Friday, fierce clashes have been going on in Diwaniya, capital city of Qadissiya province, with intensive hovering by U.S. warplanes over the city.
Shortly before noon, the al-Sadr's office spokesman in Diwaniya said that three elements from Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi army were wounded.
"U.S. forces are shelling Salem street and al-Askari neighborhood now, wounding three elements from al-Mahdi army, while the Mahdi army managed to set an American tank and two hummers ablaze," the media spokesman told the (VOI), noting that the clashes were still underway.
For his part, a medical source in the Shiite predominantly province said that the clashes between joint Iraqi-U.S. forces and unidentified gunmen left 19 injured persons, affirming that U.S. forces prevented ambulances from carrying the wounded to a hospital.
"A total of 19 injured persons arrived in the hospital with a help from citizens," Dr. Hamid Jaati added.
He urged the Iraqi government and civil society organizations to provide the province with medical supplies, mainly oxygen cylinder and other medical stuffs.
The Multi-National Force had said earlier in the day in a statement that one man was killed and four others wounded in violent clashes that broke out on Friday morning between joint Iraqi-U.S. forces and unidentified gunmen in the city of Diwaniya.
"Forces from the Iraqi army's 8th Division and the MNF started Operation Black Eagle to impose order in Diwaniya at 6:30 a.m. on Friday," read the statement received by VOI.
The statement noted that a brigade from the U.S. 25th Division is taking part alongside the Iraqi forces with the aim of chasing gunmen in the city.
"U.S. tanks are now raiding Diwaniya as clashes are taking place in the area of al-Jumhouri," an eyewitness had told VOI earlier on Friday.
The eyewitness said (U.S.) warplanes were hovering over the city while all roads are sealed off.
The Diwaniya local council had asked the central government two weeks ago for the Iraqi army's intervention to administer the Fardh al-Qanoon security plan in Diwaniya, capital of predominantly Shiite province of al-Qadissiya, 180 km south of Baghdad.