Army of the Mahdi attacks US Base near Najaf
The Shiite Army of the Mahdi launched twenty mortar shells against the US base near Najaf on Monday, and engaged in a 3-hour firefight with US troops at a checkpoint, but failed to inflict any casualties. US troops returned fire, estimating that they killed 20 militiamen, but insisting they had been careful to minimize civilian casualties. Najaf health authorities disputed this claim, insisting that some sixteen civilians had been wounded, including a woman.
al-Hayat alleges that American armor entered downtown Najaf late Monday, though US spokesmen were saying that the Americans were avoiding the sacred shrine of Imam Ali.
Al-Zaman suggests that a final attempt at negotiations between Muqtada al-Sadr and the Americans has broken down, and that Najaf is tense with rumors that the US is about to go in and arrest or kill him. Such rumors may explain his militiamen’s attack on US forces, aimed at drawing them into firefights in the city and ultimately trapping them into damaging the shrine of Imam Ali. If they have such a strategy, it would help explain why they could fire 20 mortars and not hit anything– the point was just to draw fire. The US troops seem unlikely to fall for this tactic, however.
In Karbala, local notables achieved a 3-day truce between the Army of the Mahdi and the local police chief. Sheikh Hamzah al-Ta’i, a Muqtada supporter, announced that his group would strive for peaceful coexistence with the police. For his part, the police chief demanded that the militia return all police vehicles and other property that it seized at the beginning of the Shiite uprising in early April.
Muqtada’s spokesman announced the collapse of negotiations between al-Sadr and the Americans, saying they had failed because of American obstinacy. Sources close to the talks told al-Zaman that they had failed because the US would not compromise on its insistence that Muqtada surrender himself for trial in the death on April 9, 2003, of Ayatollah Abdul Majid al-Khoei.
The spokesman, al-Khaz’ali, also maintained that a US attack on a Sadrist office in Hilla had killed 5 of Muqtada’s followers, including Sheikh Adnan Ainbaki, a key aide to Muqtada.
Meanwhile, AP reported that, ‘ In Baghdad, insurgents opened fire on U.S. soldiers guarding a weapons cache, killing one soldier and wounding two, the military said. Elsewhere, a Marine was killed in by enemy fire in Anbar province, the western Iraqi province where the turbulent cities of Ramadi and Fallujah are located. ‘