January 29, 2007 -- Iraqi officials say U.S. and Iraqi forces have killed about 250 alleged militants who were purportedly planning to attack Shi'ite Muslims during the religious festival of Ashura.
No independent confirmation of the casualty toll from the battle on January 28 near the holy city of Al-Najaf was available.
Asaad Abu Gilel, the governor of Al-Najaf Governorate, said the militants had apparently planned to attack Shi'ite clerics and pilgrims marking Ashura, the holiest time of the Shi'ite calendar.
The religious affiliation of the militants was not clear. They were reportedly from a previously unknown group called the Army of Heaven.
At least two Iraqi soldiers were reported killed in the fighting, while two U.S. soldiers were reported killed when their helicopter was shot down near Al-Najaf.
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SUNNI, SHI'A: Iraq is riven along sectarian lines, faults that frequently produce violent clashes and are a constant source of tension. Sectarian concerns drive much of Iraqi politics and are the main threat to the country's fragile security environment.
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