BAGHDAD, Aug. 9 -- Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada Sadr on Monday rejected an appeal by Iraq's prime minister to end the fighting in Najaf, rallying his supporters to fight with him to "the last drop of my blood" as U.S. and Iraqi forces encircled a shrine in the Shiite holy city.
Speaking publicly in the Imam Ali shrine for the first time since clashes erupted in Najaf five days ago, Sadr said it was "an honor for me to fight the Americans." Referring to his militia force, which battled U.S. and allied forces in the south during much of April and May, Sadr said: "I told the Mahdi Army that I'm one of them. I will not leave Najaf until the last drop of my blood. I will resist, and they will resist with me."
Militiamen loyal to Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr fire a mortar in the city of Najaf, about 90 miles south of Baghdad.
(Akram Saleh -- Reuters)
_____Fighting in Najaf_____
Video: As fighting continued for the fifth day in the Iraqi holy city of Najaf, radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr vowed to continue to fight U.S. forces.
His rebuff to Prime Minister Ayad Allawi -- whom he compared to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon -- appeared to doom the Iraqi leader's efforts to bring Sadr and his followers into the political process.
"We are still trying to make some efforts to make him say yes" to requests to end the fighting in the southern city, acknowledged Georges Sada, a spokesman for Allawi. "It seems his message is the opposite."
The turmoil has spread to other parts of the country. On Monday, residents of Baghdad's restless Sadr City section rejected a government curfew, and in the southern port of Basra, a British soldier was killed in an attack.
Fighting and the threat of sabotage prompted Iraq to stop pumping oil to Basra through its vital southern pipeline, although storage tanks there can keep exports flowing for about two days, according to news services.
"We are losing a lot of money," Sada said. "We are trying to make our people understand that this violence affects the plans of reconstruction of the country."
Forty miles north of Baghdad, in Balad Ruz, explosives packed into a station wagon detonated at the home of the Diyala province's deputy governor, Aquil Hamid Adili. The blast killed six policemen and wounded 17 people, including Adili and his 9-year-old son. Adili was listed in stable condition. In Baghdad, a ranking police officer in the eastern portion of the city, Brig. Raed Mohammed Khudair, was kidnapped.
Also Monday, a roadside bomb blew up next to a bus in the town of Khaldiya, 45 miles west of Baghdad, killing four passengers and wounding four others, officials said.
The Defense Department on Monday identified two Marines and a solider killed last week in Najaf: Sgt. Yadir G. Reynoso, 27, of Wapato, Wash.; Cpl. Roberto Abad, 22, of Los Angeles; and Pfc. Raymond J. Faulstich Jr., 24, of Leonardtown, Md. The Pentagon also released the name of Spec. Joshua I. Bunch, 23, of Hattiesburg, Miss., who died Friday in Baghdad in an attack on his vehicle.
The violence around the country appeared linked to the situation in Najaf, about 90 miles south of Baghdad. Explosions and gunfire have resounded since Thursday near the shrine where the remains of Ali, son-in-law of the prophet Muhammad, are buried, and at the enormous cemetery nearby.
A Marine spokesman said insurgents had fled the cemetery after an assault on Friday. But when U.S. forces withdrew from the area, the insurgents moved back in.
"They are conducting the same tactics -- launching attacks from the cemetery and surrounding areas, only to immediately run back and seek sanctuary in the mosques and buildings surrounding the Imam Ali shrine," the spokesman said.
U.S. and Iraqi forces "will not allow them to seek sanctuary and hijack this holy cemetery from the people of Iraq," Col. Anthony M. Haslam, commanding officer of the Marines in Najaf, said in a statement. "We will not allow them to continue to desecrate this sacred site, using it as an insurgent base of operations. There will be no sanctuary for thugs and criminals in Najaf."