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20 August 2004 -- After an intense bombardment lasting several hours, the U.S. military ended its shelling of insurgent positions in the Iraqi city of Al-Najaf shortly before daybreak.
U.S. forces hit positions held by radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his militiamen in and around the Imam Ali shrine. There was also gun fighting outside the building, which U.S. tanks and soldiers have now surrounded.
The fighting continued as al-Sadr loyalists ignored interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's "final call" to disarm. U.S. warplanes also bombed suspected insurgent positions in the Sunni Muslim city of Al-Fallujah again today, and conducted operations in the Baghdad suburb of Al-Sadr City, which a U.S. Army engineer, Captain Denis Pitdorn, said is focusing on Shi'ite militants loyal to al-Sadr.
"Right now, the coalition is conducting operations against the illegal militia of Muqtada Sadr here in Sadr City. This is to restore essential government services back to the people of Al-Sadr City and so they can return to a sense of normalcy, without retribution from the illegal militia," Pitdorn said.
Elsewhere, suspected al-Sadr militants set fire to the headquarters of Iraq's South Oil Company in Al-Basrah.
(AP/Reuters/AFP)For the latest news on Iraq, see RFE/RL's webpage on "The New Iraq".Factbox: Iraq's Holy City of Al-Najaf