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Iraqi forces in shootout with Sunni patrolmen

Iraqi security forces swept through an area of Baghdad yesterday and detained several people after Sunni patrolmen angry at their leader's arrest clashed with police and troops in a battle that killed three people.

The shootout on Saturday between government forces and the guards, many of them former insurgents who switched sides and joined the US military to fight al-Qa'ida, took place in the central Baghdad district of al-Fadhil after the arrest of Adil al-Mashhadani and one of his men.

Relations are tense between the Shi'ite-led government and the fighters, who numbered 100,000 nationwide at one point, and many fear being targeted for their insurgent past.

"We captured 14 people wanted by Iraqi justice in al-Fadhil district and we found weapons," Baghdad security spokesman Qassim al-Moussawi said after police and troops, backed by tanks and US forces, encircled al-Fadhil and then combed the area.

A member of the neighbourhood patrol who declined to be identified said he knew of about six or seven people who had been arrested, some of them members of the guard force.

The operation was conducted largely peacefully with no repetition of Saturday's fighting in which three people were killed, at least two of them civilians, and 15 people wounded.

The Sunni Arab fighters took five Iraqi soldiers prisoner, according to security sources, but representatives of the neighbourhood patrol said they were released overnight and Moussawi said no hostages were being held yesterday.