18 killed in Iraq violence
* US continues pounding Fallujah
* US and Iraqi forces detain Sunni cleric
* Margaret Hassan in video appeal for release
BAGHDAD: Eighteen people including two girls were killed in Iraq in separate incidents late Thursday and Friday.
US Marines clashed with several groups of militants, exchanging gunfire and artillery, on the outskirts of Fallujah, the US command said on Friday. Fresh fighting erupted about 4:00pm when militants from within the city fired small arms and mortars at Marines conducting security operations near the city, a military statement said. The Marines countered “with substantial and proportionate ground fire”.
Earlier on Thursday night, US aircraft and artillery pounded suspected weapons warehouses in Fallujah, leaving seven people dead and three others wounded, hospital sources said. The US army confirmed that two raids were carried out in the area on Thursday.
Two young Iraqi girls were killed on Friday when their car came under US fire near Fallujah, according to an Iraqi who helped rescue four people wounded in the incident.
Villager Mahmoud Mohammed said the mother of the two girls and the driver of the car, who were both wounded, had told him a US tank had fired at the vehicle in Naamiya, 10 kilometres southeast of Fallujah. Two other children in the car were hurt. Hospital officials in Fallujah confirmed the casualties. There was no immediate comment from the US military. In other violence, a car bomb exploded near a police station in Ishaqi, about 80 km north of Baghdad, wounding two policemen, police said. Two prisoners escaped after the blast.
Nine militants were killed and three wounded in a gun battle on Friday between US and Iraqi forces and militants in the town of Buhruz, northeast of Baghdad, said the US military. Two US soldiers and one Iraqi were wounded in a joint US-Iraqi operation on Friday against suspected militants near a mosque in Mosul, said the US military.
The military said that militants fired small arms, RPGs and mortars at Iraqi and US forces. US and Iraqi forces detained a leading member of the Muslim Clerics’ Association on Friday in what the influential Sunni group described as a campaign against opponents of the US presence in Iraq.
Sheikh Abdel-Sattar Abdel-Jabbar, his two sons and a neighbour were arrested in a raid on the mosque compound where they live in the Tunis area of Baghdad round 1:30am (2230 GMT Thursday), association officials said.
The US military said it had no reports of any Iraqi cleric being arrested in Baghdad. British-Iraqi hostage Margaret Hassan made an emotional appeal for British forces to withdraw from Iraq, in a videotape broadcast on Arabic television channel Al Jazeera on Friday.
“Please help me, please help me,” Margaret, who works for aid agency Care International, was shown saying while crying. “This might be my last hour.”
Meanwhile, Margaret’s Iraqi husband criticized British Prime Minister Tony Blair for commenting on his wife’s abduction, saying it could put the dual Iraqi-British citizen in even greater danger. Court martial proceedings started on Friday for two US soldiers involved in Iraq’s notorious Abu Ghraib prison scandal.
The court martial of Specialist Charles Graner, an alleged ringleader of prison abuse at Abu Ghraib, began while that of a second US soldier accused of abuse, Sergeant Javal Davis, was expected to begin later in the day. agencies