TWENTY-FIVE soldiers in the puppet Iraqi army were killed yesterday in fierce fighting with the Mahdi Army militia, which is opposed to the US-UK occupation of Iraq.
The fighting broke out in Diwaniya, south of the Iraqi capital Baghdad.
Five soldiers in the puppet forces also went missing during the fighting, which erupted on Sunday after US troops refused to release a leader of the Mahdi Army arrested on Saturday.
Nine civilians have also been killed and at least 70 have been injured.
Diwaniya is the capital of the Qadisiyah governorate.
Abdumunaam Abu Tibikh, an official from the Qadisiyah provincial council, said the puppet government was trying to ‘get rid’ of armed fighters in the city outside its control.
The Mahdi Army are followers of the leading anti-occupation cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
The Qadisiyah provincial council official claimed the Mahdi Army fighters in Diwaniya had been ordered by al-Sadr to put down their guns and to convert their office into a centre for religious and cultural activities, but had refused to do so.
‘These elements have triggered riots and carry weapons in the city, which has led the government to deploy the army and the police against them,’ the official said.
But the head of Moqtada al-Sadr’s office in Diwaniya, Abu Assen Naili, said the puppet Iraqi army had attacked three residential neighbourhoods and opened fire on civilians.
The Bush administration and its UK ally Blair want the Mahdi Army disbanded.
This is whilst sectarian death squads, which have been linked to the puppet government and the occupying powers, continue to exist.