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Fighting Continues For Iraqi Cities

PRAGUE, 9 April 2004 (RFE/RL) -- U.S.-led troops today continued fighting insurgents in both Shi'ite and Sunni parts of Iraq, on a day marking the one-year anniversary of the fall of Baghdad to coalition forces.

A U.S. commander, Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, said a militia loyal to Shi'a Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr still has partial control of the cities of Al-Najaf, Karbala, and Al-Kut. He said he expects U.S. forces to regain full control of Al-Kut by early in the day on 10 April.

Coalition leaders called for a temporary cease-fire in the Sunni city of Al-Fallujah to allow humanitarian aid to reach residents. But U.S. Central Command chief General John Abizaid said some fighting might still be taking place there.

"It's not a cessation of military action," Abizaid said. "It is a cessation of offensive action, which is very different. I mean, we certainly will take whatever military action we need to defend ourselves and to prevent the enemy from taking any advantage there."

A hospital director in Al-Fallujah reported that more than 400 Iraqis have been killed and 1,000 wounded in the past week of fighting.

Meanwhile, a British civilian and six U.S. soldiers were killed in separate clashes today, the British Foreign Office and the Pentagon announced.

In Tokyo, thousands of demonstrators gathered to call on the government to withdraw its troops from Iraq following the kidnapping of three Japanese civilians there and a threat to execute them if Japanese troops are not pulled out of Iraq. But Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said he will not comply with the kidnappers' demands for withdrawal.

Insurgents today claimed they have abducted six other foreign nationals -- four Italians and two Americans -- in or near Baghdad.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw called the situation in Iraq the "most serious" that the U.S.-led coalition has faced since its forces captured Baghdad.

Al-Sadr said through a supporter at Al-Kufa Mosque that the United States must withdraw or face a revolution. He claimed the United States is " fighting an entire nation -- from south to north, from east to west."

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