U.S. and coalition forces fought a fierce battle south of Baghdad early Monday with members of a secret cell network that is believed to be supplying insurgents with explosives and other resources from Iran. Iraqi police and hospital officials said 36 people were killed in the violence.
More than 100 people were injured in the fighting in Amarah, the officials said. At least three of those killed were Iraqi policemen, they said.
The violence came as military officials said U.S. and Iraqi forces had begun major military operations north and south of Baghdad.
An official in the office of Iraq's national security adviser said operations also had been launched near Fallujah and in Diyala province.
Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Garver, a spokesman for the multi-national forces in Iraq, said the operation targeted a secret cell network that is supplying insurgents with EFP's (Explosively-Formed Penetrators) and other resources from Iran.
A doctor at Amarah's general hospital said 36 bodies had been taken to his facility. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to media.
The U.S. military released a statement saying at least 20 insurgents had been killed and six wounded in coalition operations targeting "secret cells" in Amarah. Another suspect was detained, it said.
The men were believed to be members of a terror network that imports deadly armor-piercing weapons made in Iran known as EFPs, the statement said. They also were suspected of bringing militants from Iraq to Iran for terror training, it added.
Coalition forces came under small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenade attacks during the raids, and called in air support, the military said. The suspects were killed by fire from aircraft, it said.
The U.S. statement did not specify whether the coalition troops were American or British.
Iraqi police said the Mahdi Army, the militia commanded by radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, was involved in the clashes, which lasted for about two hours before dawn.
Amarah, located 200 miles southeast of Baghdad, is the provincial capital of Maysan province, a predominantly Shiite region that borders Iran. Iraqi forces took over control of security from British troops there in April.
The city has seen intense militia fighting, most recently in October 2006, when the Mahdi Army briefly took control of the city and fought prolonged gun battles with local police. At the time, Amarah's police force was believed to be dominated by a rival militia, the Badr Brigades. More than 30 people were killed in the standoff.
In other developments:A roadside bomb killed a U.S. soldier on a foot patrol in Baghdad, the military said Monday. The Multi-National Division - Baghdad soldier was killed Sunday in the southern part of the capital, according to a brief statement that provided no more details. The soldier's identity was not released pending notification of relatives.Two people were killed Monday in clashes that erupted between Iraqi police and Mahdi Army fighters in Nasiriyah, about 70 miles south of Amarah, police said. The fighting began after some police patrols were attacked there Sunday night, a police officer and an official in the town's health department said, both on condition of anonymity out of security concerns. Some local tribesman had joined the fight, siding with Iraqi police in trying to oust the militiamen from their town, the officials said.In Fallujah, four civilians were killed and 13 injured Monday when a parked car bomb ripped through a busy vegetable market, police said. Fallujah lies 40 miles west of Baghdad. The Bush administration renewed efforts Monday to press the Iraqi government to clamp down on sectarian violence as the U.S. commander in Baghdad warned it could take as long as a decade to stabilize the country. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Iraqi foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari met at the State Department to assess the situation and plot strategy following the comments Sunday from Gen. David Petraeus. Iraq's prime minister has fired the Basra police chief after retaliatory bombings on major Sunni mosques in Basra. An official says the police chief (Major General Mohammed al-Mousawi) was seen as "incompetent" because his forces failed to stop the bombings that served as revenge for last week's toppling of parts of a prized Shiite shrine.While the Bush administration and congressional Republicans say they are waiting to see how well it will work, critics say that the United States' increased military presence will do little to build a stable Iraq. Appearing on Face the Nation, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said that members of his party believe judgment of the surge's effectiveness should be withheld until Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, deliver a progress report to Congress (read more).
An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to the operation as targeting Shiite militiamen, rather than secret cell networks. The earlier report also said British soldiers were invovled in the firefight, when mainly U.S. and coalition forces did the fighting.
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