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Sectarian Clash Leaves at Least 60 Dead in Southern Iraqi City

Diwaniyah was calm Tuesday, a day after militia loyal to Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and the Iraqi army battled for 12 hours, killing 40 gunmen and 23 soldiers. Analysts assess what the fighting says about the Iraq government's ability to control the country.

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    Coalition forces and Iraqi troops patrolled the perimeter of Diwaniya today, one day after the most violent clashes yet between the Iraqi army and gunmen loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The 12-hour gun battle, about 80 miles south of Baghdad, left dozens dead, including soldiers allegedly executed by militiamen.

    Sadr's army, known as the Mahdi Army, staged the first major Shiite resistance against American troops in April 2004. In recent months, the fighters are now targeting a new enemy: Iraqi security forces.

    U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad has said militias are the single greatest threat to the country's stability. He appeared on the NewsHour earlier this month.

    ZALMAY KHALILZAD, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq: Militias have that potential to become a state within a state. For Iraq to succeed to become a successful country, militias have to be brought under control.


    But bringing al-Sadr's Mahdi militia under control is proving difficult. Sadr remains popular among Iraq's majority Shiite community, especially the poor. His party controls 30 of the 275 seats in parliament and has five seats in the cabinet of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Maliki, also a Shiite, so far has not publicly called for the disbanding of Sadr's militia.

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