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Iraqi rebels turn on al-Qaeda

From correspondents in Baghdad


IRAQI nationalist rebels in the Sunni Arab city of Ramadi have turned against their former al-Qaeda allies after a bomb attack this month killed 80 people, sparking tit-for-tat assassinations.

Residents today said at least three prominent figures on both sides were among those killed after local insurgent groups formed an alliance against al-Qaeda, blaming it for massacring police recruits in Ramadi on January 5.

"There was a meeting right after the bombings," one Ramadi resident familiar with the events said. "Tribal leaders and political figures gathered to form the Anbar Revolutionaries to fight al-Qaeda in Anbar and force them to leave the province.

"Since then there has been all-out war between them," said the resident in the capital of the sprawling western desert province of Anbar, speaking anonymously for fear of reprisals.

Local Iraqi officials confirmed residents' accounts of events but declined to comment publicly.

The bloodshed is the latest example of a trend US military commanders and diplomats have been pointing to optimistically in recent months as a sign that some militants may be ready to pursue negotiable demands through the new Sunni Arab engagement in parliament after taking part in last month's election.

On Thursday, three local Islamist groups around Ramadi - the 1920 Brigades, the Mujahideen Army and the Islamic Movement for Iraq's Mujahideen - also met to distance themselves from their fellow Islamists in Qaeda, joining the shift against al-Qaeda led by more secular, tribal and nationalist groups.

The pan-Arab Al Hayat newspaper quoted a statement from six Iraqi armed groups on Monday announcing they had united to form the "People's Cell" to confront Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and preserve security in the Anbar province.

The statement condemned "armed operations which target innocents" and affirmed "a halt to cooperation with al-Qaeda".

Both sides have distributed leaflets in the city of half a million claiming killings of opponents.

"Qaeda announces the killing of someone in the Revolutionaries and then the others announce they have killed someone in Qaeda," the resident said.

Another resident following events closely said: "The conflict is now clear between the militant groups and al-Qaeda; the Anbar Revolutionaries who were formed after the attacks say they want to eliminate al-Qaeda from Anbar."


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