US launches air strikes on Najaf

Wext: Thursday, 12.August. @ 00:00:00 CEST


11. 08. 2004 - US forces in Iraq have launched air strikes on positions held by supporters of radical Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr in the holy city of Najaf.
Plumes of smoke rose from the city's massive cemetery as the aircraft opened fire, witnesses said.

The air raids came after US troops urged civilians to evacuate Najaf.

Using loudspeakers and speaking in Arabic, they warned residents near the front lines that there was no truce as clashes raged for the sixth day.

The BBC's Alastair Leithead in Baghdad says the Najaf stand-off is the biggest test for Iraq's interim government, also challenged by violence elsewhere.

In the capital itself, mortar rounds and rockets were fired at parts of the city where the interim government is based.

These areas also house Western forces, diplomats and journalists.

But it is not clear whether the attacks, which also included a roadside bomb targeting a US convoy, were from the Shia Mehdi Army militant followers of Mr Sadr or other, possibly Sunni Muslim, insurgents.

Our correspondent adds that a curfew ordered by the US-led multinational force on the Sadr City slum area of Baghdad seen as a stronghold for Mr Sadr failed to achieve its goals, with fighting continuing throughout the night.

Elsewhere in Iraq, the Southern Oil Company was closed for a second day in Basra, where Mehdi Army militants have threatened the oil infrastructure. The security situation in Basra is said to be worsening.

Ceasefire smashed

Artillery and tank fire was reported on Tuesday around Najaf's vast cemetery and close to the Imam Ali shrine.

The shrine - one of Shia Islam's holiest sites - was used for a defiant news conference by Mr Sadr on Monday.

The US military says a 24-hour truce called to allow the wounded to be evacuated from Najaf is "no longer in place".

A spokesman for interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi told the BBC that the US-led forces were answering a request to help Iraqi police and national guardsmen.

"They are trying to restore order in Najaf because there is no order there - it's chaos," Gurgis Sada told BBC Radio Five Live.

"We feel that we need help [from] our friends and we have asked for them and they are there."

Najaf was plunged back into violence last Thursday when a previous ceasefire between foreign forces and the Shia militia collapsed after six weeks.

As well as being a key military battleground, correspondents say it is also at the heart of an intense political stand-off.

Mr Allawi delivered a tough message during a surprise visit to the city on Sunday, ordering insurgents to quit fighting.

But on Monday, Mr Sadr said he would defend the city "until the last drop of my blood".

Each side is blaming the other for the fighting. The number of casualties is unclear.

The US is set to assume military authority over Najaf and Qadisiya provinces after a Polish-led multinational force announced it was leaving the provinces.

Source: BBC

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