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U.S. military urges crackdown on Iraq militias

Written by: Staff
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BAGHDAD, Apr 1 (Reuters) A senior U.S. military official said today that Iraqi leaders struggling to form a government should stamp out militias but he declined to discuss the scale of the problem and how it should be tackled.

''When you are putting a government together you cannot have extra armed groups out there,'' the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told reporters in a briefing.

''The government is going to have to get a policy to deal with this. It's something that has to be a clear cut policy.'' Arab Sunnis, who held power until Saddam Hussein's fall, have accused the Interior Ministry of using Shi'ite militia death squads against their community, a charge the government denies.

Attention has been focused on militias since the bombing of a Shi'ite shrine last month touched off reprisals and pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war.

Hundreds of apparent victims of sectarian killings have been dumped in the streets of Baghdad with bullet holes and strangulation marks.

Iraqi leaders are still struggling to form a government more than three months after elections, a deadlock that the senior official said was creating a vacuum that could fuel violence.

Disbanding militias would be a complicated and potentially explosive task because they are tied to political parties.

The bloodshed has prompted U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad to call on the Iraqi government to disband militias, saying they were killing more Iraqis than ''terrorists''.

While the senior U.S. military official called on the government to crack down on armed groups, and expressed concerns over the rising rate of kidnappings and murders, he would not comment on the magnitude of the problem.

''They need to get us a policy on how to deal with extra armed groups.'' When asked about death squads, he only cited one case of 22 Iraqi highway patrol officers who were detained by U.S. troops in February. Four were suspected of planning to kidnap and kill an Arab Sunni man.

The senior U.S. military official declined to confirm witness and police reports that a controversial U.S.-backed raid on a mosque complex on Sunday killed 16 members of a militia loyal to firebrand Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, a key member of the Shi'ite Alliance that dominates Iraqi politics.

REUTERS SHB PC2301

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