BAGHDAD, Jan 9: Iraqi and US forces killed 50 people in a central Baghdad district they described as riddled with “terrorist hideouts”, Iraq's government said on Tuesday, as American jets and helicopters prowled overhead.

Details of the battle around Haifa Street remained sketchy and the US military declined to give a casualty figure.

It said soldiers came under rocket and gunfire early on Tuesday, the fourth day of fighting in the area.

The clashes came on the eve of an expected announcement by President George W. Bush of a substantial US troop increase in Baghdad, a development Iraq said it welcomed. Since Saturday, by Iraqi official estimates, more than 130 people have been killed, including 27 civilians on Saturday who have been portrayed as the victims of Sunni insurgents active in the area, two kilometres from the Green Zone government compound.

“There are many terrorist hideouts in Haifa Street,” Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told a news conference, adding that some foreign Arab suspects had been detained.

Though not clearly related, the violence has followed an announcement by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki four days ago of a crackdown on militants in the capital. Bush is expected to tell Americans on Wednesday evening he is ready to send 20,000 more troops to Baghdad.

Bush’s Democratic opponents, newly in control of Congress, have warned they may resist that 15 per cent increase in the US force in Iraq.—Reuters

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