U.S. troops try to quell `minor uprising'

Radical cleric's forces clash with the coalition in at least 4 Iraqi cities

May 16, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BAGHDAD, Iraq - U.S.-led occupation forces battled with insurgents and militias loyal to a rebel Shiite cleric in at least four cities in Iraq over a 24-hour period ending yesterday, killing at least 38 Iraqis in what one U.S. official said was part of a "minor uprising."

Brig Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the deputy director for occupation forces, said that in the 24-hour period, 14 Iraqi militiamen had been killed in the poor Shiite Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City after U.S. forces were attacked with rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and small-arms fire in at least four or five operations. "There was no one large battle," Kimmitt said.

The U.S. military spokesman's office in Baghdad said two U.S. soldiers died after separate mortar and sniper attacks. A third was killed in a road accident, it said. Military officials said that one soldier who was wounded two days ago in fighting in Karbala has died of his injuries.

In the southern city of Nasiriyah, militia forces loyal to the rebel cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, attacked a building used by the occupation authorities, firing rifles and rocket-propelled grenades and trapping foreign staff inside.

Kimmitt said that 40 militiamen had attacked the building, but by early yesterday the occupation forces had re-established control.

"It was a minor disturbance, a minor uprising," he said.

Kimmitt said that he thought that the militia had used the fighting Friday in Najaf as an opportunity to provoke attacks in Al Amara, Nasiriyah and Sadr City.

The fighting in Najaf, a holy Shiite city south of Baghdad, broke out Friday. U.S. tank units and soldiers battled al-Sadr's militiamen in a centuries-old cemetery near the Shrine of Imam Ali.

"Things seem to be much quieter today," Kimmitt said.

Farther south, in the Al Amara area, at least 20 Iraqis were killed after British occupation forces came under attack during the night, said a spokesman, Dominic D'Angelo.

"My understanding is that this was a patrol," said D'Angelo by telephone. He said the attackers might also have used rocket-propelled grenades.

U.S. forces and Iraqi defense units fought militiamen loyal to al-Sadr yesterday in Karbala, another Shiite Muslim holy city. Three militia fighters were killed and seven wounded in the clashes, said a hospital official, Ali Moussa, in the city, south of Baghdad. Military officials in Karbala reported five militiamen killed.

Kimmitt said one soldier was injured.

Fighting between the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps and the militiamen took place near the shrine of Imam Abbas, Iraqi witnesses said. Militiamen loyal to al-Sadr have taken cover near the shrines in Karbala, the site of fighting for much of the past two weeks.

In Karbala and in nearby Najaf, where U.S. tank troops fought al-Sadr's militia Friday, the political consequences are high because of the presence of the shrines held sacred by Shiites.

Yesterday, a senior Shiite cleric in Karbala, Ayatollah Muhammad al-Mudarasi, called on citizens in Karbala to hold a demonstration today to call for the occupation forces to leave.

Other Shiite leaders have asked for both U.S. forces and the militia to leave Najaf. Kimmitt said that the U.S. forces would stay as far out of the city as practical but that they had a responsibility to maintain law and order.

In Karbala, Iraqi witnesses said that the clashes took place near the shrine and the sound of gunfire echoed through the narrow streets.

The Mahdi Army, as al-Sadr's forces are known, attacked at least one police headquarters and seized it. Hamza al-Taei, a commander of the militia, issued a warning to Iraqi policemen that they would also be targets.

Yesterday in the northern city of Mosul, as many as four people were killed and 17 wounded in a mortar attack on Iraqi civilians waiting in line to join the new Iraqi army, Reuters quoted hospital staff members as saying.

A rocket was fired into the Green Zone, the fortified compound that houses the U.S. occupation authorities, injuring a soldier and civilian.

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