Baghdad crackdown

BAGHDAD - A fierce firefight raged in central Baghdad yesterday between the Iraqi army and Sunni insurgents.

BAGHDAD - A fierce firefight raged in central Baghdad yesterday between the Iraqi army and Sunni insurgents.

The intense firefight came as US President George Bush prepares to unveil his new strategy for Iraq today.

It started after a new video film of Saddam Hussein, taken just after his hanging, appeared on the Internet.

A barrage of mortar and machine-gun fire reverberated across central Baghdad as security forces launched a crackdown on Sunni insurgents, less than 2km from the seat of Iraq's government and the US embassy.

Skirmishes began in the early hours of yesterday and by daylight had grown into a heated firefight.

US fighter jets and military helicopters flew above the area where the battle was centered, witnesses and the US military said.

The US military said Iraqi soldiers with support from coalition forces "are conducting targeted raids to capture multiple targets, disrupt insurgent activity and restore Iraqi security forces' control of north Haifa Street.

"This area has been subject to insurgent activity, which has repeatedly disrupted Iraqi security force operations in central Baghdad," Lieutenant Colonel Scott Bleichwehl said.

Haifa Street is a Sunni bastion where top officials of the former regime lived. It is now a refuge for Sunni insurgents.

The new video film shows Saddam Hussein's head sharply twisted to one side and a gaping bloody wound in his neck.

The Iraqi defence ministry said its forces had arrested 11 militants, including seven Syrians, in Haifa Street.

It said two of the four others arrested were Al Qaeda militants picked up from Yusifiyah, south of Baghdad.

The ministry said eight hostages were set free. - Sapa-AFP

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