At least 30 people have been killed and 219 wounded in clashes in the past 24 hours, not including Najaf where fierce fighting is ongoing.

The figures were provided by the Health Ministry in Baghdad on Wednesday. 
   
US forces said they have killed 360 "Al-Mahdi army militiamen" so far in Najaf. Shia Muslim leader Muqtada al-Sadr's spokesmen said far fewer have died. Information about US casualties remains unclear.

According to the Health Ministry, most of the Iraqi casualties are civilians - though it did not provide the identities of victims.

Some of the heaviest fighting occurred in Amara, 365km southeast of Baghdad, where 20 people were killed and 50 others were wounded. Fighting also killed or wounded civilians in Baghdad, Kut, Diwaniya and Basra.

Many US soldiers have been killed
or injured in the ongoing fighting

Aljazeera has learnt that a number of explosions were heard in several areas of Kut, where members of the Al-Mahdi army have surrounded Iraqi national forces and police headquarters, particularly in the al-Hai neighbourhood.

 

Elsewhere, six Iraqis were killed and 13 others injured when a bomb exploded in a market in Khan Bani Saad village, northeast of Baghdad, medical sources told Aljazeera.

 

Also, two US military vehicles were destroyed and a number of US soldiers injured in a blast south of Baquba city.

 

Dissenting voice


The Iraqi Shia Muslim fighting in several cities across central and southern Iraq for the second time in four months has killed and wounded hundreds.
   
The clashes appear to have stalled efforts by interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi to draw prominent Shia leader al-Sadr into the country's political transition.
 
But in an attempt to deal with the worsening situation, the interim deputy president has called on US occupation troops to pull out of Najaf completely.

"I call for multinational forces to leave Najaf and for only Iraqi forces to remain there," Ibrahim Jaafari said in remarks broadcast on Aljazeera on Wednesday.
   
"Iraqi forces can administer Najaf to end this phenomenon of violence in this city that is holy to all Muslims." 
   
His remarks followed demands by Allawi for Shia fighters to also quit Najaf, even though al-Sadr has vowed never to leave his hometown.