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Iraq police in armed clash with pro-Iran militia in Baghdad

By AFP - Jun 21,2018 - Last updated at Jun 21,2018

This photo taken on Wednesday shows a propaganda billboard for the pro-Iran Hizbollah Brigades militia hanging over Palestine Street in the centre of the Iraqi capital Baghdad, depicting three of their masked fighters walking along a road between palm trees (AFP photo)

BAGHDAD, Iraq — Iraqi police surrounded the headquarters of an Iran-backed militia and detained one of its members after an armed clash on Wednesday left three people wounded in Baghdad, a security official said.

The powerful Hizbollah Brigades militia is part of the Hashed Al Shaabi paramilitary units that battled the Daesh militant group in Iraq. 

A shootout erupted after a police patrol in the Iraqi capital stopped a car, only for a convoy of Hizbollah Brigades members to arrive, an interior ministry official said on condition of anonymity.

"The men in five vehicles opened fire and the police responded. Two policemen were wounded and one of the members of Hizbollah Brigades," he said. 

The police then quickly surrounded the militia headquarters "where the fighters had holed up", the official said, closing down one of Baghdad's main thoroughfares.

The siege was lifted after the "person behind the shooting" was arrested, the official said. 

The flareup in violence was rare for the Iraqi capital, which has seen clashes drop off dramatically since a sectarian conflict over a decade ago.

The Hizbollah Brigades joined the Hashed alliance — which came under the command of Iraq's prime minister — after an appeal in 2014 by Iraq's top Shiite cleric to stop Daesh rampaging across the country. 

Independent of the authorities in Baghdad, the Hizbollah Brigades are also fighting on the side of President Bashar Assad in Syria.

The group was targeted on Sunday in air raids laid at Israel's door that reportedly left some 50 people dead in eastern Syria, where forces on the ground are battling Daesh remnants.

Israel has pledged to take all steps to stop key Assad backer Iran or its "proxies" building up a military presence in Syria.

Late on Tuesday, Iraq's biggest tribe appealed for weapons to defend itself against Daesh after several of its members were abducted and killed in a central desert region.

The Shammar are a particular target for Daesh because they sided with the government in the battle with the militants, who were expelled from their last urban strongholds last year.

"We hold the security forces responsible for protecting civilians... failure to do so is a failure of duty," Shammar leader Sheikh Abdallah Hmeidi Ajeel Al Yawar said in a statement late on Tuesday.

"If the security forces are unable to control these areas inhabited by the Shammar and other tribes... the commander-in-chief [of the armed forces Prime Minister Haider Abadi] should open the door for volunteers to join the ranks of the army and form a brigade of sons of the region to protect themselves."

On Sunday, Daesh attacked several Shammar villages in Jazira, the vast desert stretching from the west of Baghdad right up to the Syrian border, and abducted 30 people.

The bodies of seven of them were later found.

Despite the government's declaration in December of victory over Daesh, the extremists have continued to carry out attacks in remote desert areas.

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