Iraq’s security forces said they arrested on Monday 32 militants who had taken part in extensive clashes with the army.

The incident on Sunday, which raged for over seven hours, saw four members of the security forces killed along with 11 insurgents in the northern Diyala province, Iraqi officials said.

A military officer said that following the wave of arrests the police and army had “cleared the area of armed elements.” However, regional security officials warned that armed groups were gaining strength in the province.

Iraqi forces had come under heavy fire while carrying out a military operation targeting a group said to be suspected al—Qaeda militants in the town of al—Hadid, some 65 kilometres north—east of Baghdad.

U.S. military planes were called in and also targeted the insurgents.

The militant cell was said to have been involved in attacks against Iraqi security services in recent days.

Large quantities of weapons were found in the area, security sources said.

The U.S. reduced its troop presence in Iraq to 50,000, who are said to be focused on advisory, counter terrorism and training missions.

It plans to withdraw all troops by the end of 2011.

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