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US says Iraqi army units clash, Iraqis deny it

Written by: Staff
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BAGHDAD, May 13 (Reuters) The U S military reported on Saturday a clash between Iraqi army units that killed one Iraqi soldier, raising questions over the new, U.S.-trained force's cohesion in the face of ethnic and sectarian rivalries.

But the Iraqi Defence Ministry denied all knowledge of such an incident and Iraqi army and police officers in the area gave a different account of yesterday's events, describing violence between a mainly Kurdish army unit and local, Arab civilians.

The U S military said its troops helped end a stand-off at Balad, 40 km north of Baghdad, between two Iraqi units, one of which had earlier been ambushed by rebels.

But a spokesman declined to say whether the U.S. soldiers actually witnessed Iraqi troops killing a fellow soldier and referred inquiries to the media office of the Iraqi Defence Ministry. There, an official said he knew of no such case.

As Prime Minister-designate Nuri al-Maliki prepares to form a national unity government in the coming days that Iraqi and U.S. leaders hope can help prevent a civil war, the stability of the new security forces is of critical importance to U.S. plans to hand over to Iraqis and start withdrawing American troops.

Elsewhere in Iraq today, in the second city of Basra and the town of Hilla south of Baghdad, there were new signs of faction-fighting over control of mainly Shi'ite police forces.

In an apparent mark of confidence that Maliki will succeed in meeting a May 22 deadline for forming a government, the Foreign Ministry said an Arab League-sponsored ''national reconciliation conference'' would be held in Baghdad in June.

ARMY DIVISIONS Of the quarter-million Iraqis now in the forces, including army and police, some were recruited from armed groups linked to parties in the Shi'ite- and Kurdish-led interim government.

U.S. and Iraqi commanders highlight recent recruitment from Sunni Arab areas where insurgents have been strong and say they are trying to ensure a sectarian and ethnic mix in the army. But some units remain dominated by particular groups.

MORE REUTERS SY VC2040

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