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Iraq: disarmament scheme for rebels extended

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Iraq: disarmament scheme for rebels extended

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Arms collection sites in Baghdad’s Sadr city slums have been the target of mortar attack by insurgents in which at least two national guards have died. The disarmament scheme for Shi’ite militiamen to surrender their weapons has been extended until next week. Far fewer arms than expected have been handed in. It was hoped the plan would bring an end to weeks of fighting in Sadr City and help restore authority throughout in Iraq ahead of planned elections in January. Further east, in the Sunni stronghold of Falluja, fighting rages on between US troops and militants loyal to rebel leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

US warplanes pounded the city on Sunday as American troops reinforced their positions around the rebel-held city. Hospital officials said the heavy fighting prevented them from reaching the injured. Meanwhile, Italy’s defence minister has mentioned the possible withdrawal of his troops from Iraq, which he said could start some time next year. The 3,000 Italian soldiers deployed in southern Iraq represent the third largest foreign military contingent in the country after the US and Britain. London has confirmed it is considering a request by Washington to deploy British troops in US-controlled areas but denied it would do this as a political gesture to boost support for George W Bush ahead of the US presidential vote.