Smoke rises after clashes between Iraqi security forces and
followers of Iraq's Shi'ite cleric Mahmoud al-Sarkhi, in
the holy city of Karbala, southwest of Baghdad. Photo by
Up to 45 people were killed in clashes between Iraqi
security forces and followers of a radical cleric in the holy
Shi'ite city of Karbala, security sources said, signalling
divisions among Shi'ite factions as a Sunni insurgency rages.
The clashes erupted when police and army personnel tried to
arrest Shi'ite cleric Mahmoud al-Sarkhi around midnight on
Tuesday in the southern city of Karbala, an Interior Ministry
intelligence officer and a police witness told Reuters.
Sarkhi and his armed followers have clashed in the past with
U.S. forces, Iraqi security forces and supporters of Grand
Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most revered Shi'ite cleric in
Security forces said they went to arrest Sarkhi after his
supporters started blocking roads and manning checkpoints
around his neighbourhood in the Shi'ite shrine city, home to
the tomb of Imam Hussein, which millions of Shi'ite pilgrims
flock to annually.
Sarkhi had published a letter on his website earlier this
week criticizing Sistani's decree for Iraqis to fight
alongside the security forces against Sunni militants.
Sistani issued his decree after the Islamic State in Iraq and
the Levant (ISIL) swept across parts of northern and western
Iraq. The group, which rules swathes of territory in an arc
from Aleppo in Syria to near the western edge of Baghdad in
Iraq, has since shortened its name to Islamic State and
declared a "caliphate" to rule over the world's Muslims.
Police and troops reinforced by five helicopter gunships
surrounded the house but were prevented from entering by
Sarkhi's armed followers, the sources said, adding five
police officers and about 40 of Sarkhi's supporters were
The sources said that when security forces managed to break
into the house after six hours of clashes, they found Sarkhi
had escaped during the battle. Sarkhi's supporters posted on
the cleric's website a picture of an Iraqi military Humvee
vehicle they said they had destroyed in the battle.