Fighting in Baghdad's Shiite area, children killed in blast

(dpa) - Heavy fighting erupted Tuesday in a Shiite district in east Baghdad between Shiite Mahdi Army militiamen and Iraqi and US troops, witnesses said, while four children and two women were killed in a bomb blast in Iraq's eastern Diayla province.

Loud explosions were heard in Sadr City, the Mahdi Army stronghold, and US helicopters were shelling the area, which has been encircled by US and Iraqi troops for nearly two weeks, the witnesses told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

Reports of casualties were not immediately available.

US and Iraqi troops were stationed on main roads in Sadr City but failed to enter the poor district's alleyways and narrow streets where militiamen loyal to Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr are believed to be launching rocket-propelled grenades and mortars.

US and Iraqi snipers were seen on rooftops only on main roads, witnesses said.

Sadr City, which is an overpopulated slum area inhabited mainly by poor Shiite Muslims, has been closed by US and Iraqi forces since the end of March.

The Iraqi government launched a crackdown on Shiite militias, mainly the Mahdi Army, in the southern city of Basra on March 25. But fighting erupted in other southern Shiite-dominated cities and areas in Baghdad between the Mahdi Army and US and Iraqi troops.

Hundreds have been reported dead and injured in the fighting.

The humanitarian situation in Sadr City is worsening as a ban on vehicles continues, creating shortages of food and medical supplies.

Scenes of destruction caused by shelling and heavy fighting were seen across the district, witnesses leaving the area told dpa.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has urged al-Sadr to disband his militia, otherwise, his political Sadr Bloc movement would be barred from a key municipal election due to be held in October.

In the eastern Diyala province, four children and two women were killed and five people injured by a bomb that hit a minibus they were riding in Baldruz, south-east of the provincial capital Baquba, according to media reports.

Meanwhile, insurgents have killed six US soldiers in Iraq, the US military reported Tuesday.

Four were killed Sunday and Monday in attacks in the capital Baghdad, while two others were killed by a bomb in the city of Balad to the north of Baghdad.

Suspected al-Qaeda terrorists killed a clan chief and his three sons Monday evening near the village of Khalis to the north-east of Baghdad, Aswat al-Iraq news agency reported.

Sheikh Aziz Mohammed Faraj, head of the Obaid clan, was a brother- in-law of the former vice president, Isset Ibrahim al-Duri, who went into hiding five years ago when the US-led invasion toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein.

Al-Duri is believed to be supporting the armed struggle against the US occupation of Iraq.

Faraj was head of a local militia that was fighting al-Qaeda, Aswat al-Iraq reported.

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