BAGHDAD — Officials imposed curfews in two towns to the far east and south of Baghdad on Thursday, amid violence between rival Sunni Muslims in one incident and clashes between a Shiite Muslim militia and Iraqi security forces in another.
Security officials said local authorities shut down foot and vehicular traffic in Mendli, near the Iranian border, after local Sunni gunmen fought in the streets for more than two hours against what some said were members of the insurgent group al Qaida in Iraq.
Casualty figures weren't available, but witnesses reported fierce gunfights and "huge financial losses" in the town.
Authorities clamped a curfew on Simawa, 170 miles south of Baghdad, after Iraqi police and army units confronted Mahdi Army militiamen, loyal to anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr. Witnesses described intense volleys of gunfire that killed four people, including a police officer, and injured nine.
Although no U.S. troops reportedly were involved, the battles underscored the web of foes the American military faces as it ramps up a countrywide security plan launched in February.
U.S. forces, now at their fully built-up strength of more than 150,000, initiated a series of offensives in Baghdad and the provinces last month in hopes of pacifying the country.
In September, Gen. David Petraeus, the top American commander in Iraq, is scheduled to deliver a progress report to Congress on the effectiveness of the troop increase. Without tangible results, lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle probably will call for a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops.
After initially warring with Sunni tribes, the U.S. military has embraced them as allies to fight al Qaida in Iraq over the last several months. The alliance has angered majority Shiites and has raised concerns even within military ranks about training and arming those whom the U.S. once considered insurgents.
The strategy also has created confusion about who the enemy is. The U.S. military is investigating a June 22 helicopter attack that killed 17 fighters in Khalis, 30 miles northeast of Baghdad. The incident happened in the opening days of Operation Arrowhead Ripper, one of series of offensives related to the American troop buildup. U.S. officials initially said the targets were al Qaida in Iraq terrorists.
However, residents of the area complained that the victims weren't terrorists, but members of a village guard force and ordinary citizens.
Baghdad has had nightly curfews almost since the beginning of the war in March 2003. The Sunni-held Salahuddin province to the north of the capital now has a curfew from midnight to 6 a.m., and the farthest northern Kurdish province of Nainawa has a 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew.
(Drummond reports for The Charlotte Observer.)