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Al-Sadr's army beats back occupation assault


Friday 23 April 2004 - Occupation forces have clashed with fighters loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr in the Iraqi holy city of Karbala as the Shia leader warned of martyrdom attacks against US-led troops.

One soldier in the 9000-strong force under Polish command in central Iraq was killed in the fighting, according to Aljazeera's correspondent in the city.

Explosions were heard over different parts of the city as the rival forces traded fire for half an hour.

Witnesses and hospital staff said five civilians - four Iraqis and one Iranian - and five members of al-Sadr's Mahdi army were wounded in the clashes.


An AFP correspondent who witnessed the gunbattle saw four wounded civilians and the charred remains of a four-wheel-drive vehicle of the occupation troops.

After the firing which erupted before Friday's prayers, the Mahdi army fighters said they had beaten back an assault by occupation forces.

The occupation in a statement said at about 12:10 (0810 GMT), a convoy was attacked near the city hall. "The patrol returned fire," it said.

The statement said reinforcements from the division's 1st Brigade Combat Team were sent to secure the city hall and surrounding areas. The 1st BCT is made up of Polish, Bulgarian, Lithuanian and Latvian troops.

City hall is located near the office of an al-Sadr religious foundation and the al-Mukhayyam mosque controlled by his loyalists.

US-led occupation forces have threatened to retake Karbala, located 110 km south of Baghdad, from al-Sadr loyalists who seized the city early this month.

An uneasy standoff had been in effect over the past few days, with Iraqi police hunkered down around official buildings and patrolling only near holy sites while al-Sadr's Mahdi militia was deployed near the cleric's local headquarters.


Meanwhile, Al-Sadr said there would be martyrdom attacks if the occupation troops penetrated any of the Shia holy cities.

"If we are forced to defend our cities, we will resort to martyrdom operations and we will be human time bombs which would explode in their faces," he said in his weekly sermon at Kufa, on the outskirts of the holy city of Najaf, 160 km south of Baghdad on Friday.

"We have enough weapons and a large number of followers, and there are many believers who are ready to conduct martyrdom operations," he said.

"Until now we had refused to do this," he said, adding: "But if we are forced to do it, we will."

Al-Sadr also urged Najaf residents to create committees to run their city. "It is up to you to build your Islamic capital," he said.

"We should be united for one ultimate goal, to liberate our country and remove the filth from Iraq."

The congregation chanted "Long live Sadr" and denounced not only the occupation forces but the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, saying "America and the Council are infidels".

Occupation forces are attempting to capture al-Sadr allegedly in connection with the assassination of a rival Shia cleric.


The commander of the US forces besieging the restive town of Falluja said insurgents have only days left to turn in their weapons according to an agreement reached with local leaders.

The return of families who escaped fighting in the town has been suspended following clashes yesterday that left 36 Iraqis dead.

Armoured US reinforcements have been seen arriving in the vicinity of Falluja.

Aljazeera + Agencies


:: Article nr. 2093 sent on 23-apr-2004 18:28 ECT


Link: english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/801F82F4-E91F-46F9-8A63-9E18CDE75178.htm

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