- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 29, 2004

BAGHDAD — Shi’ite militants and U.S. forces battled yesterday in Baghdad’s Sadr City slum and a mortar barrage slammed into a busy eastern neighborhood in a new round of violence in the capital that left five persons dead and dozens wounded, officials said.

The violence contrasted with calm in the holy city of Najaf, where residents cleaned up broken glass and rubble and returned to their wrecked offices and shops after three weeks of devastating clashes between Shi’ite fighters and U.S. troops.

Elsewhere, U.S. warplanes bombed suspected militant hide-outs in Fallujah, west of Baghdad, and rebels blew up an oil pipeline in southern Iraq.

In Najaf, dozens of municipal workers were out for the first time in weeks, sweeping debris off roads lined with battle-scarred buildings, ripped by bombs.

Fighting stopped in the city after militants loyal to rebel Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr filed out of the revered Imam Ali shrine and turned over the keys to religious authorities, symbolizing their acceptance of a peace deal brokered by Iraq’s top Shi’ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

But gunbattles broke out between militants and U.S. forces in Sadr City, a Baghdad stronghold of Sheik al-Sadr’s militia, Mahdi’s Army.

U.S. soldiers in Humvees drove through the impoverished neighborhood with loudspeakers, demanding people stay home because coalition forces were “cleaning the area of armed men.”

There was sporadic gunfire.

Saad al-Amili, a Health Ministry official, said three persons were killed and 25 wounded in the skirmishes.

Also, militants fired assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades at American troops patrolling the area, said U.S. Capt. Brian O’Malley of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, adding that U.S. forces suffered no casualties.

Fighters fired eight mortar shells at U.S. troops in Sadr City but missed, hitting a small power station and knocking out electricity to a six-block area, he said.

As the battles raged, insurgents fired a round of mortar shells into a crowded eastern Baghdad neighborhood, killing two boys washing cars in a street near the former Iraqi National Olympic Committee building, said Interior Ministry spokesman Col. Adnan Abdul-Rahman. At least four mortar shells landed in the area, witnesses said.

The dead teens were taken to a nearby morgue, where tearful relatives pounded their chests in grief and others hugged and kissed the bodies. At least six other persons were injured, said Bashir Mohammed of Baghdad’s al-Kindi hospital.

U.S. warplanes carried out airstrikes for the second straight day in the city of Fallujah, a center for Sunni Muslim insurgents who have been battling U.S. forces for more than 18 months.

U.S. forces also exchanged gunfire with insurgents on the city’s eastern outskirts, and fighting was reported on the main highway that runs to neighboring Jordan.

The airstrikes, which witnesses said began at around 7 p.m. and continued for an hour, hit the city’s eastern al-Askari neighborhood as well as the industrial area at the eastern entrance of Fallujah. At least four homes were destroyed and people were seen being rushed to the hospital.

Smoke could be seen billowing into the air and flames blazed in the sky after the strikes.

Lt. Col. Thomas V. Johnson, a Marine spokesman, said U.S. troops based on the edge of Fallujah responded with tanks and artillery after their positions took “sporadic fire.” He said one fire in the city had been started by a U.S. strike and was “believed to be related to a hit on a significant weapons cache.”

In other violence:

• A volley of mortar rounds fell near the Palestine Hotel in central Baghdad, where foreign journalists and contractors stay. There were no casualties.

• Police found the bodies of a slain Turkish truck driver and an Iraqi man on a highway near Beiji, 155 miles north of Baghdad, a Turkish diplomat said.

• Iraqi police mistakenly opened fire on U.S. troops, who returned fire, wounding two policemen in the northern city of Kirkuk, said an Iraqi National Guard commander, Maj. Gen. Anwar Mohammed Amin.

• Rebels blew up a pipeline inside the West Qurna oil fields in southern Iraq late Friday, sparking a fire that burned for a day. The attack will affect exports, though it was not immediately clear by how much, said a South Oil Co. official in West Qurna.

Exports from Iraq’s oil-rich south have fallen to about 900,000 barrels a day, about half the normal average of 1.8 million barrels a day, after an attack Wednesday on a cluster of pipelines. Insurgents have repeatedly sabotaged Iraq’s crucial oil industry, its main source of income, in an effort to hamper reconstruction efforts.

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