12 Aug 2004 -- Iraqi officials say at least 72 people were killed and 148 wounded today in U.S. air raids and fighting between the Iraqi police and Shi'ite militia in the southern Iraqi city of Al-Kut.
Security officials said most of the casualties fell during a two-hour period early today when U.S. warplanes bombed a neighborhood controlled by fighters loyal to Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
Al-Kut hospital director Khadir Fadal Arar said that at least 18 houses were destroyed and added that many of the dead are women and children.
U.S. Marines and fighters loyal to al-Sadr have been locked in eight days of bitter fighting in the Shi'ite holy city of Al-Najaf, roughly 150 kilometers west of Al-Kut, where the U.S. military today announced the start of what it called a "major offensive" to destroy the Shi'ite militia.
For more on the situation in Iraq, go to RFE/RL's special page, "The New Iraq."