1,000 Iraqi deaths blamed on standoff

Warfare in Najaf lasted for three violent weeks

September 12, 2004|By Evan Osnos and Rick Jervis | Evan Osnos and Rick Jervis,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

NAJAF, Iraq - Three weeks of urban warfare killed at least 1,000 Iraqi rebels and civilians, the governor of this battle-weary city said yesterday in his first estimate of the death toll since the standoff ended two weeks ago.

During last month's relentless close-quarters combat between U.S. troops and militants loyal to rebel cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, hospital officials and military officers had estimated the death toll in this southern holy city had climbed far into the hundreds, though most conceded that estimates could not be verified until fighting eased.

Now, two weeks after the violent standoff, Najaf Gov. Adnan Zurfi said yesterday that he put the death toll for insurgents and civilians "at over 1,000 killed," based on hospital data and other measures he did not name.

That grim coda on the Najaf clashes came as the top U.S. commander in northwestern Iraq set a clock ticking on the newest front in the Iraqi insurgency, warning yesterday that insurgents who have infiltrated the northern city of Tal Afar will have a week to leave the city or face military reprisals.

Brig. Gen. Carter Ham said about 7,500 U.S. troops in the area are poised to reinstate local officials deposed by militias.

The remote cement factory town of Tal Afar, 30 miles west of Mosul near the Syrian border, has been overrun by militias who have seized residents' homes and battled U.S. troops over the past 10 days, U.S. military officials said. The fighting has killed 67 insurgents, they said.

U.S. troops have sealed off roads leading to the city but are permitting civilians to leave, residents and commanders say. Some residents are bristling at the partial blockade, which has interfered with efforts to return bodies for burial in Tal Afar and limited the ability of Iraqi National Guard troops to enter the city, residents said by phone yesterday.

Ham said the fighting may intensify if the insurgents don't leave the city.

"Instead of taking up the fight, they should turn themselves in or leave the city," Ham said. "The ones who have stayed have made their decision. There'll be no reconciliation with them."

Meanwhile yesterday, large explosions shook the center of Iraq's capital late in the evening. The Baghdad blasts occurred about 10:10 p.m. and were the latest in a series of detonations rattling the heart of the city throughout the day.

In the late-night barrage, three or four projectiles - believed to be either mortar shells or rockets - slammed into a group of apartment buildings across the street from the Palestine and Sheraton hotels, where many international journalists are based.

Col. Adnan Abdul-Rahman, an Interior Ministry official, said there were no reports of casualties. Earlier, mortar shells or rockets exploded near the Green Zone and at a U.S. base in northern Baghdad. No casualties were reported.

In Basra, Iraq's major southern city, a bomb exploded outside a Saddam Hussein palace that now houses a U.S. consular office. One person was killed, and two were wounded, police said. The victims were believed to be Iraqis.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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