BAGHDAD : At least 34 people were killed in fierce gun battles as suspected Al-Qaeda fighters – some dressed as Iraqi soldiers – attacked three villages, officials said on Thursday.
Gunmen dressed in army uniforms launched an attack on Howr Rajab, a Sunni village south of Baghdad, killing three soldiers and wounding three, a security official said.
They then commandeered a Humvee armoured vehicle and charged into the village where they assaulted the headquarters of the Howr Rajab Awakening Council, a local anti-Qaeda front made up of Sunni Arab men.
Witnesses said fierce clashes ensued when Iraqi troops and Awakening members fought back. At least 10 civilians were killed and four wounded in the clashes.
A doctor at Baghdad’s Al-Yarmuk hospital said the facility had received the bodies of 10 civilians from the village.
An interior ministry official confirmed three soldiers had been killed and put the death toll of civilians at 18. […]
Awakening councils, groups made up mainly of Sunni Arabs who have joined US forces in fighting Al-Qaeda, have sprung up across Iraq and are credited as helping bring about a drastic reduction in violence across the country. […]
In the past few months, the US military has launched a crackdown in and around Howr Rajab and persuaded several villagers to join the fight against Al-Qaeda.
The attack there came a day after leaflets were distributed in the village warning Sunni Arabs against becoming US allies.
“There will be many battles between us. We will bomb each and every house in the village and chop the heads of people unless they return” to the anti-American insurgency, said one leaflet, put out in the name of Al-Qaeda.