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Chief in southern Iraq city killed by bomb

By Bushra Juhi

Associated Press

BAGHDAD — A police chief was killed Monday by a bomb planted in his office, in a southern Iraqi town that saw heavy clashes last month between government forces and the Shiite militia of cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, police said.

Also on Monday, Iraqi security forces launched raids in Shiite militia strongholds in the city of Basra after gunmen killed one policeman and wounded three others.

The violence was the latest to shake fragile truces between Shiite gunmen and the government that eased widescale clashes that erupted in early April over a crackdown on militiamen in Basra. The south and the Shiite district of Sadr City in Baghdad have continued to see low-level clashes for weeks amid arrests of Shiite fighters.

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Monday’s bombing killed Lt. Col. Farhan Qassim, chief of police in Suq al-Shiyoukh, an area outside Nasiriyah, 200 miles southeast of Baghdad. The blast went off inside Qassim’s office as he entered it in the morning, police in Nasiriyah said. The police officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared becoming targets themselves.

Suq al-Shiyoukh was the scene of heavy fighting on April 19 between police and members of al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army that left 22 people dead.

The area has also seen apparent infiltration of Shiite militiamen. A week ago, a bomb detonated in the province’s main police command in Nasiriyah, wounding two officers. Four policemen were arrested soon after.

Farther south, Iraqi solders and police launched pre-dawn raids in four neighborhoods of Basra, including two Shiite militia enclaves, arresting several suspects, Basra’s operations command Maj. Gen. Mohammed Jawad Huwaidi said, without giving a precise number of arrests.

The sweep was targeting gunmen believed to be behind Sunday’s attack on a police checkpoint in the center of the city that killed a policeman and wounded three others, Huwaidi said.

Baghdad’s Sadr City saw skirmishes over the weekend between U.S. forces and Shiite militiamen — including fighting Saturday night in which the military said three militants were killed. During the clashes, mortars struck the Maamil district to the northeast, killing six people — five of them children — according to the victims’ families and Iraqi medical officials.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki launched crackdowns in Basra and Sadr City in late March and early April aimed at putting down Shiite militiamen. Last week, a similar sweep began in the northern city of Mosul to break the hold of Sunni al-Qaida in Iraq fighters.

On Sunday, the U.S. military said it removed from Iraq an American sniper after he used a copy of the Quran for target practice. A U.S. commander held a formal ceremony Saturday apologizing to Sunni tribal leaders in Radwaniyah, a town west of Baghdad.

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The elaborate ceremony — in which one U.S. officer kissed a new copy of Islam’s holy book before giving it to the tribal leaders — reflected the military’s eagerness to stave off anger among Sunni Arabs it has been cultivating as allies.

The tribesmen have become key in the fight against al-Qaida in Iraq militants, who depict the American forces as anti-Islamic occupiers. One anti-U.S. Iraqi Sunni group condemned the Quran shooting, calling it "a hideous act." Similar perceived insults to Islam have triggered protests throughout the Muslim world.

Iraqi police found the bullet-riddled Quran with graffiti inside the cover on May 11 on a firing range near a police station in a former insurgent stronghold west of Baghdad, U.S. military spokesman Col. Bill Buckner said.

American commanders launched an inquiry that led to disciplinary action against the unidentified soldier, who has been removed from Iraq, Buckner said.

Members of the local U.S.-allied group said the Quran was found with 14 bullet holes in a field after U.S. troops withdrew from a base in the area.

At a ceremony reported by CNN, the top American commander in Baghdad apologized to Radwaniyah tribal chiefs. "I come before you here seeking your forgiveness," Maj. Gen. Jeffery Hammond was quoted as saying at the ceremony. "In the most humble manner I look in your eyes today and I say please forgive me and my soldiers."

The commander also read a letter of apology by the shooter while another military official kissed a Quran and presented it to the tribal leaders, according to CNN.

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