- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 16, 2004

BAGHDAD — The U.S. military said yesterday it killed 18 gunmen believed loyal to radical cleric Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr in Baghdad, and jet fighters bombarded militia positions on the capital’s outskirts. Skirmishes persisted in the southern holy cities of Najaf and Karbala.

The U.S. military also announced the deaths of five soldiers, including three killed by rebel attacks. One died in an accident and another of “natural causes.”

U.S. troops are trying to disband Sheik al-Sadr’s militia and sideline its radical leadership before handing power to a new Iraqi government June 30.

In Najaf, militiamen fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a U.S. tank stationed at the city’s Police Directorate. The rocket missed its target, and the two sides exchanged gunfire. Elsewhere, a shell landed on a house, wounding a woman.

The normally bustling area around Karbala’s Imam Hussein shrine, one of the holiest centers for Shi’ite Muslims, was silent except for intermittent blasts and machine-gun fire. After one blast, a huge column of black smoke wafted over the golden-domed shrine. One Polish soldier was wounded in yesterday’s skirmishes, the Polish military said in Warsaw.

The confrontations in the two cities in Iraq’s southern Shi’ite heartland were less intense than in previous days.

In Najaf, gunmen from Sheik al-Sadr’s militia controlled the city center. They had replaced a special force assigned to protect the Shrine of Imam Ali, one of Shi’ite Islam’s holiest sites. On Friday, apparent gunfire slightly damaged the shrine, prompting calls for revenge and even suicide attacks.

In Baghdad, coalition forces killed 18 fighters, many of them in the eastern Sadr City neighborhood, a stronghold of Sheik al-Sadr, in a dozen separate engagements Friday and yesterday, the military said. Troops also killed seven gunmen who attacked them in western Baghdad yesterday morning, said Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the chief military spokesman in Iraq.

Also yesterday, a rocket landed in the compound housing the headquarters of the U.S.-led coalition in Baghdad, slightly wounding one soldier and a civilian.

The coalition announced a reorganization of its military command structure yesterday, creating a new headquarters with broad responsibility for operations in Iraq, including the training of Iraqi security forces and involvement in the political transition, and another headquarters that will handle daily tactical operations against the insurgency.

Meanwhile, a major Iraqi newspaper, in an editorial yesterday, urged Defense Minister Donald H. Rumsfeld to resign, joining the international outcry over the abuse of detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad.

“Rumsfeld, known for his past links with Saddam, should have announced his resignation in Baghdad to satisfy the poor Iraqi people,” the newspaper Azzaman said in a front-page editorial.

Mr. Rumsfeld, as a member of President Reagan’s Cabinet in 1980s, had met with former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Mr. Rumsfeld paid a one-day visit to Iraq on Thursday to look into the prison scandal and boost the morale of U.S. troops.

Also yesterday, the New Yorker magazine reported that Mr. Rumsfeld approved a plan that brought unconventional interrogation methods to Iraq to gain intelligence about the growing insurgency, ultimately leading to the abuse of prisoners.

Mr. Rumsfeld gave the green light to methods previously used in Afghanistan for gathering intelligence on members of al Qaeda, the magazine reported on its Web site.

Pentagon spokesman Jim Turner said he had not seen the story and could not comment. The article hits newsstands tomorrow.

U.S. interrogation techniques have come under scrutiny amid revelations that prisoners at Abu Ghraib were kept naked, stacked on top of one another, forced to engage in sex acts and photographed in humiliating poses.

President Bush has backed Mr. Rumsfeld and said the abuse was abhorrent, but the wrongful actions of only a few soldiers.

The U.S. military has now prohibited several interrogation methods from being used in Iraq, including sleep and sensory deprivation and body “stress positions,” defense officials said Friday.

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