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Uprising is put down in Baghdad Sunni slum

UNITED States-backed Iraqi forces swept through a central Baghdad slum yesterday, disarming government-allied Sunni fighters after they launched an uprising to protest the arrest of their leader.

The standoff in Fadhil, a Sunni enclave on the east bank of the Tigris River where al-Qaida once held sway, eased by midday as convoys of US and Iraqi forces rolled into the neighborhood.

But the confrontation threatens to undermine US efforts to stabilize Baghdad before American troops pull out of Iraqi cities by the end of June.

Trouble started on Saturday when Iraqi troops arrested the head of Fadhil's Awakening Council for alleged terrorist activity and for purportedly leading an armed group loyal to Saddam Hussein's ousted party.

The arrest triggered fierce gunfights between Iraqi forces and Awakening Council members, killing four people and wounding 15.

Six more people, including four women, were wounded yesterday in sporadic shooting that occurred as US and Iraqi soldiers began sealing off the neighborhood, police and hospital officials said.

The confrontation is important and potentially explosive because the Awakening Councils, also known as Sons of Iraq, are Sunni security volunteers who broke with al-Qaida and joined forces with the Americans.

The councils help man checkpoints and guard neighborhoods, playing a major role in turning the tide against the Sunni insurgency.

Some Awakening Council leaders expressed fear that Saturday's arrest could signal a crackdown on them by the Shiite-led government - a move that could send many volunteers back to the ranks of the insurgents.

An Iraqi military spokesman told government television that operation in Fadhil was directed at "pursuing those involved in opening fire on our security forces" and not the general Sunni population.

A US military spokesman, Colonel Bill Buckner, insisted the arrest did not herald a crackdown.


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