BAGHDAD - Former insurgents who turned against al-Qaida in Iraq launched an attack against the terror group and killed 18 of its members, asking the U.S. military to stay away while the battle raged, an ex-insurgent leader and Iraqi police said Saturday.
Most members of the Islamic Army, a major Sunni Arab insurgent group that includes former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, joined U.S. forces battling al-Qaida in Iraq earlier this year, though some of the group's leaders deny any contact with American troops.
A top Islamic Army leader, known as Abu Ibrahim, told The Associated Press that his fighters ambushed al-Qaida members near Samarra on Friday, killing 18 people and seizing 16 prisoners.
An Iraqi police officer in the area corroborated Abu Ibrahim's account. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity because of the situation's sensitivity.
The insurgent commander contacted Iraqi police in Samarra and told them his plans to attack al-Qaida, according to the officer and Abu Ibrahim himself.
"We found out that al-Qaida intended to attack us, so we ambushed them at 3 p.m. on Friday," Abu Ibrahim said.
He asked that Iraqi authorities inform the American military about his plans, and requested that no U.S. troops interfere, they said. He worried that U.S. helicopters might mistakenly fire on his fighters, since they had no uniforms and were indistinguishable from the al-Qaida militants, they said.
Friday's clashes raged for nearly four hours about nine miles southeast of Samarra, Abu Ibrahim said. Police said they knew about the battle, but were unable to reach the site because it was too violent. Abu Ibrahim would not say whether Islamic Army members were killed.
The U.S. military had no immediate comment.
The Iraqi officer said the hostages would not be transferred to Iraqi police. Instead, he said he believed the Islamic Army would offer a prisoner swap for some of its members held by al-Qaida.
Many Sunni tribesmen and former insurgents — some of whom once attacked U.S. and Iraqi forces themselves — have turned against al-Qaida, repelled by the terror group's sheer brutality and austere religious extremism. The uprising originated in Iraq's western Anbar province, and has spread to the capital and beyond.
So-called "Awakening councils" have sprouted up in communities across Iraq, where members swear allegiance to Iraq's U.S.-backed government and disavow militants. U.S. officials say the movement, along with a 30,000-strong American troop buildup, has been key in tamping violence in recent months.
At the Abu Hanifa mosque, Baghdad's most revered Sunni shrine, voices blasted from loudspeakers Saturday urging residents to turn against al-Qaida as well: "We are your sons, the sons of the awakening, and we want to end the operations of al-Qaida...We call upon you not to be frightened, and to cooperate with us."
image caption- A man marks bodies of two suspected al-Qaida members with red paint at a morgue in Baqouba, capital of Iraq's troubled Diyala province, 60 kilometers (35 miles) northeast of Baghdad, Saturday, Nov. 10, 2007. The two men were killed Friday, in clashes with the Iraqi army
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