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Iraqi, U.S. Forces Battle Militia Group, Five Killed

BASRA, Iraq (Reuters) -- Iraqi security forces backed by U.S. troops killed at least five people today in a raid on suspected members of what Washington calls an Iranian-backed terrorist group, the U.S. military said.

While overall violence in Iraq has fallen over the last two years, attacks and fighting remain common as Iraq gears up for a March 7 election and U.S. troops prepare to stop combat operations ahead of a withdrawal by the end of 2011.

The firefight with suspected members of Kata'ib Hizballah, a group that the U.S. State Department says has ties to Lebanon's Hizballah, occurred 265 kilometers southeast of Baghdad in a village near the Iranian border. Twelve people were arrested.

"The joint security team was fired upon by individuals dispersed in multiple residential buildings...members of the security team returned fire, killing individuals assessed to be enemy combatants," the U.S. military said in a statement.

"While the number of casualties has not yet been confirmed, initial reports indicate five individuals were killed," it said without specifying who was killed in the raid.

Maitham Laftah, a member of the provincial council of Maysan province, said 10 people were killed, including two women, and five people wounded in the village 75 kilometers north of the city of Amara. Eleven people were arrested, he said.

Hospital sources in Amara put the death toll at eight killed, including a woman, and three wounded.

A Reuters photographer who arrived after the firefight saw bloodstains on the ground and bullet holes in the walls.

The U.S. military said that Iraqi and U.S. intelligence sources have spotted a recent increase in weapons smuggling by Iranian-backed militia like Kata'ib Hizballah. It gave no further information.