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Fierce Fighting Flares Up In Al-Najaf

23 August 2004 -- U.S. troops and militiamen loyal to Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr fought intense battles in the Iraqi city of Al-Najaf today.

U.S. warplanes and helicopters bombed militia positions outside the city center as multiple explosions and gunfire echoed around the Imam Ali shrine in the city's Old Town.

Earlier, an aide to al-Sadr, Ahmad al-Shaybani, said that religious authorities in Al-Najaf will be responsible for security at the shrine, where al-Sadr's fighters are holed up. He had previously said that militiamen would continue to guard the shrine even if they handed it over to religious authorities.

In other developments, the U.S. military today said that attackers killed one Turkish citizen and two Iraqis yesterday in Tikrit.

Also today, Iraqi officials reopened the main oil-export pipeline in southern Iraq after shutting it down following threats by al-Sadr's militiamen to blow up pipelines.

(compiled from staff and wire reports)

For the latest news on Iraq, see RFE/RL's webpage on "The New Iraq".

Factbox: Iraq's Holy City of Al-Najaf

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