Iraqi government forces agreed a truce yesterday with Shiite militia fighters after violent clashes south of Baghdad as Iraq reeled from a three-day bout of bloodshed in cities across the country.
Since Saturday -- when Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki hosted a peace conference for tribal leaders -- Iraq has been battered by fire fights, bomb attacks and murders, marking one of the most violent periods in recent months.
Scores of Iraqi soldiers and civilians have been killed, along with 10 US soldiers, and government forces came close to losing control of the mainly Shiite city of Diwaniya, 180km south of the capital.
Sheikh Ghanim Abid -- a local local council member from Diwaniya -- said: "We reached a settlement with Mahdi Army forces to end the confrontation."
According to Abid, the army agreed not to enter residential areas for three days, the Mahdi Army will withdraw armed fighters and a militia commander who was arrested over the weekend will be brought to court within 24 hours.
"We are now watching the militia withdrawing. They started pulling out early this morning and they're still going," an Iraqi army captain said.
Shops began to reopen in Diwaniya yesterday and water and electricity supplies were turned back on as calm returned to the town. On Monday, the battle saw militiamen take control of several districts.
Defense ministry spokesman Mohammed al-Askari said that 20 Iraqi soldiers and 40 militiamen had been killed in the fighting.
Meanwhile, the head of Diwaniya's health department, Hamid Taathi, said his hospitals had received the bodies of eight civilians and treated 61 bystanders for wounds received in the fighting.
An explosion near Diwaniya also killed at least 15 people who were siphoning petrol from pools formed around a breach in a disused fuel pipeline late on Monday, witnesses said yesterday.
A reporter at the rural site counted 15 charred bodies, including that of a boy. A hospital official said eight bodies had been brought to Diwaniya's morgue. The cause of the blast was still under investigation, officials said.
A police source said more than 50 were killed, although that figure could not be confirmed. Witnesses said the blast occurred at 11pm, while a large group of people were scooping fuel from two large pools.
Meanwhile, suspected Sunni Muslim insurgents killed two Shiite militiamen yesterday in an attack on the office of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in the restive Iraqi city of Baquba north of Baghdad, police said.
In Baghdad itself, Iraqi police yesterday found the bodies of 11 people who had apparently been tortured and shot before being dumped near a school in the southern part of the city, an official said.
Police First Lieutenant Mutaz Salahiddin said the bullet-riddled corpses, with their hands and legs bound, were found in the Shiite dominated Maalif neighborhood.
The 11 unidentified people apparently were victims of the sectarian violence between Shiites and Sunnis that is sweeping Iraq, especially Baghdad.
Kidnappings of people of one sect by the militias of the other have become common in the tit-for-tat cycle of violence that started after a Feb. 22 bombing of a Shiite mosque in Samarra.