US prepares for major Najaf assault

A unit of the US occupation force in Iraq has said it is preparing for major assaults against Shia Muslim fighters in the city of Najaf.

    US marines are fighting Muqtada al-Sadr forces in Najaf

    "Marines, US army soldiers and Iraqi national guardsmen continue

    joint training exercises in preparation for major assaults against

    enemy forces in the city of Najaf," the 11th Marine Expeditionary

    Unit (MEU) said on Wednesday.

    US marines, Iraqi national guardsmen, two reinforced US infantry

    battalions, and a US aviation battalion are "currently working

    together to constitute the force that will conduct these major

    assaults," a statement said.

    "MEU training with the ING (Iraqi National Guard) began several

    days ago, and will foster an efficient, effective, cohesive team as

    ING leads the fight in ridding their city of those who break the

    rules of law and order," it added.

    "Iraqi and US forces are making final preparations as we get

    ready to finish this fight that the Muqtada militia started," said

    marine commander in Najaf Colonel Anthony Haslam.

    Death toll

    Sporadic fighting continued on Wednesday in the vast cemetery of

    Najaf, where fighters loyal to Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr have

    hunkered down in seven straight days of fighting against US and

    Iraqi interim government forces.

    Medics in Najaf and its twin city of Kufa said 28 people had

    been killed and more than 110 wounded over the past week.

    Al-Sadr loyalists say they are
    fighting US occupation

    Al-Sadr aides

    put the Al-Mahdi

    Army death toll at 20, while the US military reported

    four marines killed.

    Following the US announcement, Arab League Secretary General Amr Musa

    called for dialogue in Iraq.

    "Political dialogue is the only way to put Iraq back on the

    right track and obtain the departure of foreign troops," his

    spokesman Husam Zaki quoted him as saying.

    "Building a new Iraq requires from all sides the logic of

    dialogue and not that of military might," Musa said, voicing hope

    that the Arab League could play a part in "achieving national

    reconciliation through a national assembly grouping all the sons of

    Iraq".

    Iran condemnation

    Meanwhile,

    Iran's Supreme Leader Ayat Allah

    Ali Khamenei has denounced

     the US military action in

     Najaf as "one of the darkest crimes of

    humanity", and said Muslims across the world would respond to it.

    "The United States is slaughtering the people of one of the

    holiest Islamic cities and the Muslim world and the Iraqi nation

    will not stand by"

    Ayat Allah Ali Khamenei,
    Iranian supreme leader

    "The United States is slaughtering the people of one of the

    holiest Islamic cities and the Muslim world and the Iraqi nation

    will not stand by," Khamenei said in an address to cultural

    attaches broadcast on state television.

    "These crimes are a dark blemish which will never be wiped

    from the face of America. They commit these crimes and

    shamelessly talk of democracy," he said. "Shame has no place in

    their vocabulary."

    US troops, who have pounded Najaf from helicopter

    gunships, say they have killed 360 'militiamen'. Al-Sadr's spokesmen

    say far fewer have died.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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