NASIRIYAH, Iraq (AFP) – Radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia clashed with Iraqi security forces in southern city of Nasiriyah on Wednesday afer overnight fighting left four people dead.
“Two Iraqi soldiers were killed, two civilians were killed, and 40 people were wounded in the fighting, most of them civilians,” said Hadi Badr, the city’s Director of Public Health.
The fighting broke out Tuesday night when local police arrested two members of the powerful Shiite militia and accused them of targeting US-led and Iraqi forces with homemade bombs and mortars, security officials said.
A delegation from the Mahdi Army, which commands widespread popularity among Shiites in Baghdad and across the south of the country, demanded police release the two men, but were refused, sparking the battle, they said.
“They burned all the vehicles in front of one of the provincial government buildings in the centre of the city, but the governor was in another building next to it,” said Colonel Rahim Ali of the Iraqi police.
Police moved quickly to close off roads leading into and out of Nasiriyah and declared a city-wide curfew as they moved to quell the violence.
When the sun rose on Wednesday the parking lot in front of one of the main local administration buildings was filled with the charred shells of scores of vehicles, according to police.
Although the Shiite south of the country has seen less fighting than the areas in and around the capital, street fights often break out among rival political parties, many of which have infiltrated the security forces.