- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 2, 2004

KUFA, Iraq — American troops clashed with Shi’ite militants in this southern city yesterday, six days after a truce was supposed to have taken effect, and at least five Iraqis were killed and nearly 40 were wounded.

Another Iraqi was killed and three others were injured as militiamen loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr exchanged fire with American soldiers in Baghdad’s Sadr City neighborhood.

Also in the capital, two car bombs killed at least six persons and wounded 33, including five children. It was the third straight day of vehicle bombings in Baghdad, raising fears of more violence ahead of the June 30 transfer of power to the Iraqis.

West of the capital, Sunni Muslim insurgents fired mortar shells at a police station in a suburb of Fallujah, killing an Iraqi civilian and wounding a U.S. Marine and two others.

In Kirkuk in the north, massive blasts rocked a major U.S. base after an attack set an ammunition dump ablaze. The U.S. Army said there were no initial reports of casualties.

Fighting has rocked Kufa nearly every day since Shi’ite leaders announced an agreement May 27 by Sheik al-Sadr to end a standoff with the Americans here and in nearby Najaf, which have some of the most sacred Shi’ite shrines in Iraq.

Skirmishes broke out yesterday as U.S. tanks and Humvees rolled into the center of Kufa, and terrified civilians fled. Gunfire rattled as Shi’ite militiamen took positions near the mosque, where recent gunbattles have raged.

Under the agreement reached between Sheik al-Sadr and Shi’ite leaders, the militiamen were to have withdrawn from Kufa and Najaf and fighters from elsewhere in Iraq were to have gone home.

U.S. forces agreed to stop “offensive operations” but insisted on maintaining security patrols until an Iraqi government force was ready to assume that responsibility.

However, most Iraqi police deserted after the fighting broke out in April, and a special unit sent from Baghdad last week returned home, ostensibly because of a lack of accommodation.

With the Americans still in the area, the militiamen have made no move to withdraw.

Shi’ite negotiators, frustrated over the lack of progress, blamed coalition forces for a “clear violation” of the cease-fire agreement.

The Shi’ite team said that since Tuesday evening, U.S. troops attacked mosques in Kufa three times. An industrial neighborhood also was attacked, they said.

There was no comment from U.S. officials, who have said repeatedly that they were not a party to any agreement with Sheik al-Sadr but had agreed to suspend offensive operations.

Meanwhile, Associated Press Television News obtained a video showing a Turkish and an Egyptian truck driver said to have been kidnapped in Iraq. The gunmen said the drivers were delivering supplies from Kuwait to Iraq and were seized because they were working for occupation forces.

Two Polish contractors and five other employees of a construction company were abducted Tuesday near Baghdad, but one escaped, said Lt. Col. Robert Strzelecki, a Polish army spokesman.

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