1 British Soldier Dead, 5 Wounded in Basra Clashes
Najaf in Flames; Oil Production Stopped
Early Tuesday Baghdad time, there was talk of a truce in Najaf, after a fifth day of fierce fighting. Al-Jazeerah reported that Governor Adnan al-Zurufi was saying that Mahdi Army fighters had asked for a truce so as to remove their wounded. Muqtada al-Sadr maintained that the governor had sued for peace.
The Scotsman reports that the Marines continued their advance Monday into Najaf, battling fiercely with the Mahdi Army. Much of the fighting centered on control of the vast al-Salam cemetery near the shrine of Ali.
‘ Explosions and gunfire echoed from the heart of Najaf and smoke rose from near an ancient cemetery, scene of hand-to-hand combat in recent days, as US aircraft flew overhead. Sadr thundered defiance during a news conference at Najaf’s holiest shrine, the Imam Ali mosque. “The Mahdi army and I will keep resisting. I will stay in holy Najaf and will never leave,” Sadr said. “I will stay here until my last drop of blood.” ‘
Al-Zurufi and PM Iyad Allawi appear to have given the US Marines permission to fight in the shrine of Imam Ali if it became necessary in order to flush out the Mahdi Army militiamen holed up there. The outrage among Iraqi Shiites and Shiites throughout the world should the Marines pursue such a plan would likely cost the US the war, even if it won the battle.
The Scotsman also says that heavy fighting continued Monday throughout the Shiite south. In Basra, clashes left one British soldier dead and five injured as followers of Muqtada al-Sadr fired rocket-propelled grenades at two British Army Land Rovers, destroying them. Sixty-two British soldiers have died since the beginning of the Iraq War.
Basrans kept most shops closed and most municipal employees took the day off. Some 150 Mahdi Army militiamen patrolled the streets, taking control of the main intersections and demanding that shops remain closed. They threatened to occupy government offices if the US did not withdraw from the holy city of Najaf. The Mahdi Army had threatened to sabotage Iraq’s petroleum facilities, forcing Iraqi authorities to stop pumping oil.
The cessation of Iraqi pumping has caused the price of petroleum to rise to $45 a barrel.
In Baghdad, Mahdi Army fighters lobbed mortar shells at the oil ministry and the State Oil Marketing Organization. There was also heavy fighting in Shiite Sadr City, where the central government vainly attempted to enforce a curfew from 4 pm to 8 am, which was widely ignored.
In Diwaniyah, Mahdi Army militiamen surrounded the mansion of the governor and the police station. The clashes resulted in casualties.
In the southern city of Nasiriyah, guerrillas attacked the party offices of the Iraqi National Accord, the political party of PM Iyad Allawi. They warned INA members to leave the city. The INA groups ex-Baathists, who are often not popular in the Shiite south.