Iraqi police battle militia in Najaf

BAGHDAD, IRAQ — BAGHDAD, Iraq - Fierce battles in the streets broke a fragile peace in the holy Shiite city of Najaf yesterday, less than a week after U.S. forces and members of firebrand cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's militia called a truce.

At least four people, including three members of al-Sadr's al-Mahdi Army, were killed in the fighting that began late Wednesday between Iraqi police and militiamen, said Sheik Abdel Sahara al-Suedi, a spokesman for al-Sadr.


Hospital officials said six Iraqis were killed and 29 were wounded, including eight children, according to the Associated Press.

Al-Suedi said al-Sadr was still committed to the truce. He added that yesterday's violence did not constitute a breach in the agreement because the militiamen were defending themselves.


Al-Suedi said fighting took place in two Najaf neighborhoods and was spurred by Iraqi police raids Wednesday on al-Mahdi Army members' homes. Government officials in Najaf said militia members fired rockets at the police station in retaliation and at one point took over the station.

Al-Suedi, however, said the militia never had control of the station. He added that some of the battles took place in the shadows of the golden-domed shrine of Imam Ali, one of the most revered holy places among Shiites.

"Iraqi police tried to arrest a few people without any reason," al-Suedi said. "The Mahdi Army tried to defend themselves."

A senior coalition military official said it was unclear whether the truce had been violated. No coalition soldiers were involved in the fighting.

The truce was brokered June 4 after weeks of fighting between U.S. forces and the al-Mahdi Army in Najaf and the nearby city of Kufa.

As part of the truce, coalition military officials agreed to suspend serving al-Sadr with a murder warrant in the killing of another Shiite cleric last year. Al-Sadr's al-Mahdi Army ceded control of Najaf, and Iraqi police returned to patrolling the city as part of the agreement.

Since the beginning of the occupation, al-Sadr has railed against U.S. forces during Friday sermons and called on them to leave the country.

In a separate development, a senior military official and Prime Minister Iyad Allawi expressed concern yesterday that insurgents have shifted their attention to the country's infrastructure.


The statements came a day after saboteurs blew up an oil pipeline near Beiji, forcing authorities to cut output on the national power grid by 10 percent, Iraqi officials said.

Allawi said attacks on the country's electrical grid have slowed production and cost the country millions of dollars. Attacks on pipelines, he said, have cost Iraq $200 million.

"With nearly 20 days until Iraq emerges as a free, sovereign state ... terrorists have increasingly targeted our country's infrastructure," Allawi said. "These saboteurs are not freedom fighters. They are terrorists and foreign fighters opposed to our very survival as a free state."

Meanwhile, Jalal Talabani, the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, backed away from his threat this week to abandon the interim government. The party leader's threat came after the United Nations Security Council resolution on Iraq did not include recognition of Kurdish autonomy.

"We are happy that the Security Council resolution mentioned federalism, but we regret that it did not mention the Kurdish people," Talabani said in an interview on PUK television aired late Wednesday.

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