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Clashes Break Out in Baghdad

U.S. Forces Battle Insurgents as Militia Returns From Najaf

By Robin Shulman
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, August 29, 2004; Page A20

BAGHDAD, Aug. 28 -- For one commander in the militia loyal to Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr, the trip home to Baghdad after a cease-fire was reached in the holy city of Najaf was just a pit stop.

It was time enough to receive dozens of well-wishers delivering congratulations for resisting the Americans. Time enough to weep with the visitors over the damage inflicted to the sacred Imam Ali shrine.

Smoke bellows across the sky in Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood, where a new round of clashes broke out between insurgents and U.S. troops. (Karim Rahim -- AP)

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And time enough for the commander, who gave his name only as Abu Hayder, to prepare to return to Najaf on Sunday morning and figure out how to redistribute weapons that fighters had laid aside.

"It seems the truce is only in Najaf," Abu Hayder said. "Every other area is on fire."

Hundreds of fighters in the Mahdi Army, the force loyal to Sadr, recently returned from fighting in Najaf, where a calm prevailed Saturday after a three-week battle ended between the militia and U.S. and Iraqi forces. But as they arrived in Baghdad, a new round of clashes broke out in the Shiite Sadr City neighborhood between insurgents and U.S. soldiers. Some of the returning fighters said the battle in Najaf had been just another phase of a war that will continue.

"It is essential that the fight continue, and it will continue until the Americans are expelled," said Sheik Raed Kadhimi, a spokesman for Sadr's office in the Kadhimiya neighborhood of Baghdad.

Shiite insurgents fired mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles at the 1st Brigade Combat Team from the U.S. Army's 1st Cavalry Division. The U.S. forces drove through the neighborhood in Humvees, using loudspeakers to order people to stay in their houses because U.S. and allied forces were "cleaning the area of armed men," the Associated Press reported.

Three Iraqis were killed and 25 were wounded in the battles, according to the Health Ministry, while the U.S. forces reported no casualties.

Fighters also fired a round of mortars into a neighborhood in eastern Baghdad, killing two boys who were washing cars in the street, the AP said.

"It's clearly not over. This is an agreement that concerned Najaf and Kufa," a senior U.S. official said on condition of anonymity, referring to the sacred city and an adjoining town. "Moqtada Sadr has a decision to make which we'll see in actions, not words, very soon."

On Friday, a peace deal brokered by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the highest-ranking Shiite cleric in Iraq, ended the fighting in Najaf. The deal stipulated that weapons be prohibited in Najaf and Kufa, that all foreign forces leave Najaf, and that the Iraqi government compensate civilians whose homes or businesses were damaged in the battles.

A group of Iraqi officials traveled to Najaf in U.S. military helicopters Saturday to meet with Sistani and assess the damage.

"The destruction is huge," said Health Minister Alaadin Alwan, as he toured streets of bullet-pocked buildings strewn with mangled vehicles, spent ammunition and mortar shells. "It needs a great deal of work to rebuild it."

Also Saturday, for the second day, U.S. warplanes bombed the city of Fallujah, a stronghold of Sunni insurgents who have been fighting U.S. forces for more than 18 months. Several homes were destroyed, and residents were rushed to a hospital as fire filled the sky, the AP reported.

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