Members of Iraqi security detain supporters of Sheikh Mahmud al-Hassani al-Sarkhi, following clashes in the shrine city of Karbala on July 2, 2014. (AFP PHOTO/MOHAMMED SAWAF)
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Up to 45 people were killed in clashes between Iraqi security forces and followers of a radical sheikh in the holy Shiite city of Karbala Wednesday, security sources said, signaling divisions among Shiite factions as a Sunni insurgency rages.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 Shiite authority in Iraq.Sarkhi published a letter on his website earlier this week criticizing Sistani's decree for Iraqis to fight alongside the security forces against Sunni militants.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 that five police officers and about 40 of Sarkhi's supporters were killed.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. Juburi said it would be days before security forces could make a concerted push into the city.
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