- The Washington Times - Monday, May 10, 2004

From combined dispatches

NAJAF, Iraq — Shi’ite cleric Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr ordered his Mahdi’s Army to open a new offensive against U.S.-led forces yesterday after American tanks and helicopters destroyed his headquarters in Sadr City.

U.S. officials said 35 Iraqis were killed before fighting ended in the Baghdad neighborhood just before dawn yesterday. Elsewhere, firefighters battled a huge blaze that ignited when insurgents blasted an oil pipeline, slashing Iraq’s daily oil exports by about 25 percent.

Also yesterday, U.S. Marines entered the Sunni hotbed city of Fallujah for the first time since a three-week siege ended last month. The Marines, accompanied by Iraqi forces, remained in the city for about an hour and left without incident.

Three more American soldiers were reported dead in Iraq — two from hostile fire and one in a traffic accident.

In Najaf, Sheik al-Sadr’s chief aide told Reuters news agency that a new phase had begun in a monthlong insurgency across Shi’ite southern Iraq.

“We have now entered a second phase of resistance. There will be volcanic eruptions,” al-Sadr lieutenant Qais al-Khazali said.

“Our policy now is to extend the state of resistance and to move it to all of Iraq because of the occupiers’ military escalation and crossing of all red lines in the holy cities of Karbala and Najaf.”

But U.S. commanders, helped by rival Shi’ite leaders, sounded increasingly confident that they could contain the Mahdi’s Army after flattening the cleric’s office in Sadr City district overnight. U.S. officials reported killing 16 fighters in the sprawling slum yesterday, after killing 19 the previous night.

U.S. forces also have squeezed the outskirts of Najaf and, along with British forces based in Basra, have been taking back key positions such as police stations in towns in southern Iraq.

In Karbala, 50 miles south of Baghdad, U.S. tanks and armored vehicles traded gunfire with Sheik al-Sadr’s militiamen for about two hours yesterday near the al-Mokhayam mosque, residents said. A doctor at Karbala’s main hospital said three fighters were wounded.

The U.S. commander in the Middle East, Gen. John Abizaid, said his troops were doing their best to avoid inflaming religious passions by intruding on sacred ground.

“We will be patient,” the Associated Press quoted him as saying, “but our patience won’t last forever. There is a limit to our patience with Sadr.”

Firefighters, meanwhile, were battling a fire that erupted Saturday when insurgents bombed a pipeline carrying oil for export to a terminal south of the southern city of Basra.

Jabber Luyaibi, director general of Iraq’s Southern Oil Co., said engineers had managed to divert the oil to a second pipeline.

But an official for the State Oil Marketing Pipeline told Dow Jones Newswires that the alternative pipeline was too small to handle the additional flow and that, as a result, Iraq’s petroleum exports had fallen by 25 percent to 1.2 million barrels a day.

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