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12 May 2004 -- U.S. soldiers backed by tanks and helicopters are continuing to fight supporters of radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in the holy Shi'ite city of Karbala today.

Senior U.S. military officials say up to 25 of al-Sadr's militiamen were killed in clashes that started last night, in the center of the city near the Mukhaiyam Mosque.

The mosque had been serving as a base for some of al-Sadr's supporters. A hotel and several houses near the mosque were destroyed in the fighting and there were reports that bullets hit the revered shrines of Imam Hussein and Imam Abbas.

The U.S. military says its soldiers have killed some 150 al-Sadr militiamen over the past week in fighting around Iraq.

Meanwhile, an Iraqi official today said that it is unlikely that former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein will be handed over to Iraqi authorities before the scheduled 30 June transfer of U.S.-held power back to Iraqis.

Salem Chalabi, director of the Iraqi Special Tribunal, released a statement saying that it is too early to discuss timetables for Hussein's trial, but said it would likely happen in 2005.

Chalabi's statement modified his earlier statement that suggested Hussein would be handed over to Iraqi officials around 30 June.

Earlier, U.S. officials said no date has been set for the handover of Hussein to Iraqi authorities. Iraq's former leader was captured by U.S. forces in Iraq in December.

(Reuters/AP)
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