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:::Muqtada al-Sadr:::Blood Rains on Iraq:::

But al-Sadr's al-Mahdi Army launched heavy gunbattles with coalition forces in the streets of three southern cities Wednesday and, for the first time, in the north. Al-Sadr fighters battled American troops in the town of Baqouba, northeast of Baghdad, hitting a U.S. helicopter with small arms fire. The OH-58 Kiowa chopper was damaged and forced to land, but the two crewmembers were unharmed.

The black-garbed gunmen of the al-Mahdi Army also had virtual control of Kufa and Karbala, where Iraqi police lay low, allowing militiamen to move freely and acting only to prevent looting. Militiamen in Karbala clashed with Polish patrols that moved through their areas, and a cleric who was a senior official in al-Sadr's office in the city was killed.

Portraits of al-Sadr and graffiti praising his ``valiant uprising'' appeared on mosque and government building walls in the Sunni city of Ramadi. Peaceful protests in support of al-Sadr occurred in the northern cities of Mosul and Rashad.
Blood Raining on Iraqi Nation

TEHRAN TIMES
 http://www.tehrantimes.com/Description.asp?Da=4/8/2004&Cat=4&Num=027

FALLUJA, Iraq (Dispatches) -EAs the Iraqi nation has cruelly come under heavy shooting from all sides, the sounds of bad days have started ringing as an insurgency by the Iraqi people against occupiers have spread to many parts of the war-torn country.

The insurgency against foreign occupation has spread so vastly that many world leaders and organizations and unions have raised alarm about the worsening situation and have called for a restraint by the hostile forces.

The violence, coupled with sporadic terrorist acts by al-Qaeda operatives, brings to the mind a Vietnam-style quagmire for the occupiers of the Iraqi territory. The developments in Iraq are very important as the U.S. administration tries to hand over power to the Iraqis on June 30 and hold a presidential election in November.

U.S. Marines in the third day of a battle to pacify this Sunni Muslim city fired rockets that hit a mosque compound filled with worshippers Wednesday, and witnesses said as many as 40 people were killed. Shiite-inspired violence spread to key cities in Iraq, AP reported.

The fighting in Fallujah and neighboring Ramadi, where commanders confirmed 12 Marines were killed late Tuesday, was part of an intensified uprising involving both Sunni and Shiites that now stretched from Kirkuk in the north to the far south.

An Associated Press reporter in Fallujah saw cars ferrying the dead and wounded from the Abdul-Aziz al-Samarrai mosque. Witnesses said a helicopter fired three missiles into the compound, destroying part of a wall surrounding the mosque but not damaging the main building.

The strike came as worshippers had gathered for afternoon prayers, witnesses said. Temporary hospitals were set up in private homes to treat the wounded and prepare the dead for burial. There was no immediate confirmation of the number of dead.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Tuesday that U.S. forces launched the operation in Fallujah to capture insurgents involved in attacks on Americans, including the ones who mutilated and burned the bodies of four U.S. civilians ambushed last week. He said the troops had pictures and names of those involved and were not attacking the town as a whole.

But militants, who have wide support among the population, dug in and fiercely resisted the U.S. raids into the city center and attacked American troops encircling the city of 200,000. The intensity of the resistance apparently prompted U.S. forces to bring in heavy weapons such as helicopters, tanks and AC130 gunships that have pounded suspected militant sites in the densely populated neighborhoods.

Until the mosque attack, 30 Americans, two other coalition soldiers and more than 190 Iraqis had been killed in fighting across the country since Sunday.

U.S. Maj. Gen. Mark Kimmitt vowed to ``destroy'' the militia of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, which has been behind the wave of attacks and street fighting with coalition troops in southern cities and Baghdad this week.

But al-Sadr's al-Mahdi Army launched heavy gunbattles with coalition forces in the streets of three southern cities Wednesday and, for the first time, in the north. Al-Sadr fighters battled American troops in the town of Baqouba, northeast of Baghdad, hitting a U.S. helicopter with small arms fire. The OH-58 Kiowa chopper was damaged and forced to land, but the two crewmembers were unharmed.

And Shiite gunmen drove Ukrainian forces out of the southern city of Kut--raising concerns over the ability of U.S. allies to control al-Sadr's uprising.

After gunbattles overnight killed 12 Iraqis, the Ukrainians withdrew from Kut, and al-Sadr followers swept into their base, seized weapons stores and planted their flag on a nearby grain silo.

The black-garbed gunmen of the al-Mahdi Army also had virtual control of Kufa and Karbala, where Iraqi police lay low, allowing militiamen to move freely and acting only to prevent looting. Militiamen in Karbala clashed with Polish patrols that moved through their areas, and a cleric who was a senior official in al-Sadr's office in the city was killed.

Al-Sadr and his militia are unpopular among most of Iraq's Shiite majority, and there was no sign that the Shiite public in the south was rallying to their side to launch a wider popular uprising.

But the week's fighting showed a strength that few expected from the al-Mahdi Army, and moderate Shiite clerics and leaders have not raised their voices strongly against the uprising.

And there were signs of sympathy for the Sadr revolt by Sunni insurgents, who have been fighting the U.S.-led occupation for months and have often chided their Shiite countrymen for not joining in.

Portraits of al-Sadr and graffiti praising his ``valiant uprising'' appeared on mosque and government building walls in the Sunni city of Ramadi. Peaceful protests in support of al-Sadr occurred in the northern cities of Mosul and Rashad.

Monday night in Baghdad, al-Sadr gunmen went to a mainly Sunni neighborhood to join with insurgents there in firing on U.S. Humvees--the only known instance so far of Sunni and Shiite militants joining forces.

Anger was also spreading over the three-day U.S. siege of Fallujah, one of the Sunni insurgents' strongest bastions, west of Baghdad. Iraqis protesting the operation clashed with U.S. troops outside the northern city of Kirkuk in fighting that left eight Iraqis dead and 10 wounded.

The 12 Marines were killed Tuesday in Ramadi, where Maj. Gen. James Mattis, 1st Marine Division commander, said his forces still were fighting insurgents that included Syrian mercenaries along a one-mile front.

In Fallujah, dozens of insurgents carrying RPGs and automatic weapons, their faces wrapped in scarves, dug in around an eastern entrance to the city, setting up sandbags, with Marines only a few hundred yards away outside the city.

Marines making incursions toward the city center battled gunmen in the streets. Mosque loudspeakers blared calls for jihad, or holy war, and women were seen carrying guns in the streets.

Sixteen children and eight women were reported killed when warplanes struck four houses late Tuesday, said Hatem Samir, a Fallujah Hospital official.

The fighting began at the start of the week when the Marines surrounded Fallujah.

On Tuesday, however, insurgents opened a new front with the bloody attack in Ramadi that killed the 12 Marines.

Gunmen hiding in Ramadi's main cemetery opened fire on U.S. patrols, sparking a gunbattle in alleys near the governor's palace, witnesses said, adding that at least two Iraqis were killed.

Kimmitt, the U.S. military's deputy head of operations, said the United States would press the offensive, both in Fallujah and Ramadi and against al-Sadr's followers.

``The coalition and Iraqi security forces will continue deliberate, precise and powerful offensive operations to destroy the al-Mahdi Army throughout Iraq,'' he said in Baghdad, adding that coalition forces would prevent militiamen from seizing police stations and government buildings.

He called for the surrender of al-Sadr, who is named in an arrest warrant for involvement in the murder of a rival Shiite cleric almost a year ago. ``He can turn himself into a local Iraqi police station and he can face justice,'' Kimmitt said.

Despite the call, there was no sign al-Sadr's forces had eased their attacks: --Militiamen battled Spanish soldiers in Najaf, south of Baghdad. An Iraqi taxi driver was killed in the crossfire, a hospital official said. --Clashes erupted overnight in Baghdad's Sadr City, killing four Iraqis and wounding seven others, doctors said. --Militiamen traded fire with Polish troops in Karbala overnight, killing two Iranian tourists, witnesses said. --Gunmen attacked a police car Tuesday night in Youssifiya, south of Baghdad, killing two policemen.

With confirmation of the 12 dead Marines, the American death toll since the war was at least 626. Four Iranian Pilgrims Shot Dead in Iraq by U.S. Forces

Four Iranian pilgrims were killed and three others injured by U.S. forces, the official in charge of Iran's Hajj and Pilgrimage Affairs Organization in Karbala announced Wednesday.

A vehicle carrying 11 Iranian pilgrims en route from Najaf to the holy city of Kerbala, was targeted by U.S. military forces, Hossein Vaezi said regretting that the four passengers were killed and three others were injured.

The Iraqi driver of the vehicle was also killed during the attack, he added.

The bodies of those killed and the injured Iranian pilgrims are kept in al-Hussein hospital in Karbala, the official said.

Two Iranian pilgrims were shot dead and injured in clashes in the holy city of Najaf on Sunday.

Pro-Sadr Demonstrations Beirut 07.Apr.2004 12:45

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Pro-Sadr Demonstrators in Beirut Brand Bush an 'Infidel'

NaharNet
 link to www.naharnet.com


Hizbullah has sponsored a demonstration in south Beirut in support of Iraq's rebellious Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr in his ongoing confrontation with the United States occupation army, calling President Bush and the U.S.-picked Ruling Council in Baghdad a 'bunch of infidels.'
Some 100 Iraqi refugees staged the Hizbullah-escorted demonstration in south Beirut's Beir el-Abed residential neighborhood. Chants of 'long live Sadr' and 'down with infidel Bush and the Ruling Council of heretics' rang out from the crowds, the Beirut media reported on Wednesday.

The demonstrators also brandished portraits of Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah along with those of Sadr, who is seen by Shiite masses as a photocopy of Nasrallah in Iraq. Portraits of Hamas slain founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin were also wielded in the march, An Nahar reported.

One demonstrator who serves in Sadr's Beirut bureau, Mohammed Kaabi, commented to reporters on U.S. threats to arrest Sadr in Najaf. "They may be able to arrest him, but only after a half million Iraqis are killed," Kaabi said.

No violence was reported from the 2-hour demonstration.



Beirut, Updated 07 Apr 04, 10:58

Experts Say U.S. Sadr Arrest Plan Poses Perils 07.Apr.2004 12:49

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Tehran Times
 http://www.tehrantimes.com/Description.asp?Da=4/8/2004&Cat=4&Num=028

Sadr represents an activist approach of the type that led to the 1979 overthrow of Iran's U.S.-backed Shah. Sistani, his main Iraqi rival, reflects a quietist tradition in which clerics refrain from political action unless they perceive a threat to the community of believers.

If Sadr succeeded in fostering broad Shiite opposition to the U.S. occupation, Washington's control of Iraq would face dire consequences.

Sadr aide says Iraqis capture coalition soldiers 07.Apr.2004 14:47

BEIRUT, Apr 7 (Reuters)

A top aide to the militant Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr said today that his supporters had captured a number of soldiers from the U.S.-led coalition during clashes currently taking place across a large swathe of Iraq.

''Some tribes have captured some occupation forces on the streets,'' Qays al-Khazali told a news conference in the Shi'ite Muslim holy city of Najaf.

He gave no further details. The news conference was broadcast by Lebanon's al-Manar television station, mouthpiece of the militant Shi'ite Hizbollah group.

There was no immediate comment on the report from the command of U.S.-led forces in Baghdad.

Khazali denounced a U.S. military pledge earlier today to destroy Sadr's Mehdi Army militia.

''The Mehdi Army is the Iraqi people and destroying the Iraqi people is a crime,'' he said.

Sadr's militia has been battling the occupying forces across south and central Iraq since Sunday.