Occupation troops battle al-Sadr army

Five Iraqi civilians have been killed and another 20 wounded during clashes between US marines and the Mahdi Army in Najaf while Muqtada al-Sadr made his first public appearance in two weeks.

    Al-Sadr's militia has fought to shield its leader in Najaf

    "The clashes are still ongoing", Aljazeera correspondent, Atwar Bahjat said reporting from Najaf on Friday.

    "Most of the injured are seriously wounded," Saif al-Din Yusif, a doctor at the Central Euphrates hospital, told reporters.

    "They have bullet wounds to the chest and limbs, or injuries caused by mortar blasts. We have civilians among the casualties."

    US troops have reinforced Spanish and Polish soldiers in the area around Najaf, preparing for a possible campaign to root out wanted Shia Muslim leader Mu

    qtada al-Sadr

    and his militia.

    Al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia have battled occupation troops in a bloody uprising across central and southern Iraq over the past two weeks. The militia took control of parts of Najaf after clashes with foreign troops earlier this month.

    Al-Sadr defiant

    Meanwhile, al-Sadr

    said on Friday a compromise with the US-led occupation "will not work", in his first public appearance in two weeks. 

    "We will not allow the forces of occupation to enter Najaf and
    the holy sites because they are forbidden places for them," said al-Sadr in a fiery sermon at the grand mosque of Kufa,

    "I say that they are here to stay and will occupy us for many
    years and as such compromise will not work."

    Backing al-Sadr's statement, representative of the spiritual leader Grand Ayat Allah Ali al-Sistani said Iraq's two Muslim holy cities, Najaf and Karbala, were "red lines" that the US occupation forces must not cross in its confrontation with al-Sadr.

    "Up to now the marjaiya (the four top clerics, who include
    Sistani) were able to prevent occupation forces from violating the two holy cities," said Abd al-Mahdi al-Karbalai in his weekly prayer sermon at the Imam Husayn shrine in Karbala. 

    "But if they pursue this option, then this will have very grave
    consequences because these two cities are red lines that can't be crossed." 

    Iranian delegation

    Also on Friday, an Iranian foreign ministry team headed to Najaf where it was to meet Shia religious leaders, but not al-Sadr, a delegation member told AFP. 

    Al-Sadr: They (the occupation
    forces) are here to stay

    "We are going to Najaf to visit the holy place and we'll decide there who to meet from the Marjaiya (religious authorities). But (al-Sadr) is out of the picture. We don't have such a mandate to meet with him," the Iranian official said on condition of anonymity. 

    He was speaking shortly before the delegation, led by Husayn Sadighi, the Iranian foreign ministry's director for Gulf affairs, left the Iraqi capital. 

    The delegation's unnamed official rejected comments from the
    chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, General Richard Myers, that Tehran's involvement in Iraqi affairs was "unacceptable". 

    "Neighbouring countries are getting affected by the security
    situation in Iraq," said the official. "If there is something
    brewing in this country, this is our legitimate interest and

    Jordanians killed

    Also, it was announced on Friday that two Jordanians were killed and a third was injured in Iraq when their vehicle was hit by rockets nearr the central town of Ramadi.

    "Neighbouring countries are getting affected by the security situation in Iraq. If there is something brewing in this country, this is our legitimate interest and

    Iranian official

    "A Jordanian vehicle was targeted in the region of Ramadi (west of Baghdad) with a rocket bombardment on Wednesday, which cost the lives of two Jordanian citizens and badly wounded a third,"  the official Petra news agency reported on Friday. 

    The report identified only one of the dead, lawyer Muaffak
    Falih al-Zuhbi, and said the the injured man, Qasim Ouaid al-Zuhbi, was taken to hospital in Amman where he was in a critical condition. 

    Jordanian newspaper al-Arab al-Yom said the rockets were fired from a US helicopter. 

    SOURCE: Aljazeera + Agencies


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