BAGHDAD, Apr 17 (Reuters) About 50 insurgents mounted a brazen attack on Iraqi forces in Baghdad today, prompting US troops to provide support in a battle that lasted seven hours, a US military spokesman said.
The guerrillas attacked Iraqi forces in the mostly Sunni Arab district of Adhamiya in northern Baghdad overnight. Five rebels were killed and one member of the Iraqi forces was wounded. There were no US casualties, said the spokesman.
''It was quite a battle. It lasted seven hours,'' he said.
While insurgents mount such attacks in their strongholds in western Anbar province, they are rare in the Iraqi capital.
The bold attack raises fresh questions about security in the capital as Iraqi leaders struggle to form a unity government they hope can avert a sectarian civil war.
The withdrawal of US troops depends on the performance of Iraq's security forces, who are struggling to curb insurgent suicide bombings, shootings and assassinations as well as a rise in sectarian violence.
Adhamiya residents said Shi'ite militiamen accompanied the Iraqi forces. That could not be independently confirmed.
Sunni leaders have accused the Shi'ite-led Interior Ministry of sanctioning militia death squads, a charge the government denies.
''Adhamiya residents have taken up arms to prevent the Shi'ite militia from entering. There are bodies on Omar bin Abdul Aziz street, but police forces can't get to the area,'' said the police official.
It was not clear if the bodies were civilians, insurgents or government forces.
''I could not reach work. Adhamiya is cordoned off. There were fierce clashes last night. I heard explosions. Fighting is still taking place but it is not as heavy,'' Adhamiya resident Ghina told Reuters by telephone.
REUTERS CH PM2345