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Ironduke
11 Jun 04,, 06:09
U.S. to downscale Najaf operations

By Danica Kirka
Associated Press


BAGHDAD, Iraq — Shiite gunmen seized a police station Thursday in Najaf in the first outbreak of fighting since an agreement to end weeks of bloody clashes between U.S. troops and militia forces. Four Iraqis were killed and 13 were injured, hospital and militia officials said.
Gunmen loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr took control of the Ghari police station just 250 yards from the Imam Ali Shrine, witness Mohammed Hussein said. The station was looted and police cars were burned.

“We sent a quick-reaction unit to assist the policemen defending the station, but they were overwhelmed by al-Sadr fighters,” Najaf Gov. Adnan al-Zurufi said. “We will solve this problem as soon as possible. We will ask for the help of the Americans, if necessary.”

U.S. forces were not involved in the clashes, and it was unclear whether the violence marked the end of the cease-fire in Najaf, mediated by Shiite leaders and al-Sadr’s militia, or resulted from police attempts to crack down on petty crime in the city.

Police and witnesses said trouble started when authorities tried to arrest some suspected thieves at the bus station near the main police headquarters.

Masked attackers — possibly including militia members — responded with machine gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades near the headquarters building. One gunman was killed when police returned fire, and other fighters then attacked the building.

Fighting later moved to the second police station.

Al-Sadr spokesman Qais al-Khazali said he was trying to intervene and stop the violence.

“We are trying to convince them to stop shooting,” al-Khazali said. “We are still committed to the truce.”

Two of the four dead were al-Mahdi fighters, and several others were injured, al-Khazali said.

Last week, al-Sadr agreed to send his fighters home and pull back from the Islamic shrines in Najaf and its twin city of Kufa, handing over security to Iraqi police. The U.S. Army also agreed to stay away from the holy sites to give Iraqi security forces a chance to end the standoff.

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