BAGHDAD – U.S.-allied fighters in a second Iraqi province have quit working with American troops after two incidents last week in which U.S. soldiers killed militia members.
Citizen brigades in the province of Babil, south of Baghdad, quit work after three members were killed by U.S. forces Friday, a local police spokesman said.
Another high-profile fatal incident occurred in the same province a little over two weeks ago. Nationwide in that time span, 19 citizen militia members have been killed and 12 wounded by U.S. forces, said the police spokesman, Capt. Muthanna Ahmed.
The action in Babil province follows a strike by citizen brigades members in Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad, that has gone on for more than a week. The citizen militias allege the local police chief leads a death squad and seek his removal, among other demands.
A U.S. military spokesman on Saturday downplayed the recent events and said they have little impact on the more than 83,000-member largely Sunni Muslim movement, known as the Awakening Movement.
Maj. Brad Leighton called the recent events “unfortunate accidents” but said there wasn’t any trend or underlying issue to connect the incidents.
The Awakening Movement began in late 2006 in Anbar province when former Sunni Muslim insurgents and those who assisted them turned on al-Qaida in Iraq and the rest of the insurgent movement and agreed to ally with U.S. and Iraqi forces.
Along with a six-month freeze in activities of the Mahdi Army militia ordered by Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and the increased surge in U.S. troops, the Awakening Movement is seen as one of the key reasons for a reduction of violence in Iraq.
Recent incidents, however, have strained relations with some of these groups.
On Saturday, the citizens militia in Babil announced it was halting its work after back-to-back incidents this week. On late Wednesday and early Thursday, U.S. forces seeking a high-ranking al-Qaida in Iraq leader south of Zab, about 80 kilometers west of Kirkuk, opened fire on several men they believed were terrorists. The four men killed were citizen militia members, according to Iraqi police. Two women in a nearby house were also killed, either by a rocket-propelled grenade or by an assault helicopter.
On Friday in Babil, U.S. forces opened fire on a checkpoint manned by three citizen militia members, killing them.