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Iraqi fighters shoot down US helicopter
Updated: 2004-08-05 21:31

Fighters loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr shot down a U.S. helicopter on Thursday in fierce clashes in the Shi'ite holy city of Najaf that threatened to unravel a deal to end an uprising led by the radical cleric.

It was the heaviest fighting seen in Najaf since Sadr's rebellion in April and May. The city is home to the holiest shrines in Shi'ite Islam, and most Iraqi Shi'ites react with outrage when clashes erupt near the sacred sites.

A U.S. Marine helicopter is grounded in Najaf Iraq, after being shot down during fighting in the southern Iraqi city in this image taken from TV Thursday Aug. 5, 2004. A U.S. military spokesman said no one was killed in the incident. [AP]

Sadr's supporters in the Basra also took to the streets and threatened attacks unless comrades they said had been detained by British forces were released. Armed followers of Sadr also took to the streets of Shi'ite areas of Baghdad.

A U.S. military spokesman said the crew of the downed helicopter were wounded and evacuated. Sadr's aides said the cleric's Mehdi Army militia had shot down the aircraft.

Iraq's health ministry said at least two people were killed in the fighting and eight wounded. One person was also killed and four wounded when a mortar round hit a hospital in the city.

An aide to Iraq's most revered Shi'ite cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, said Sistani was receiving treatment in Najaf for heart problems and the clashes could affect his health.

"There is fear that what is happening in Najaf might affect the medical care he needs," Hamed Khafaf told Reuters.


The U.S. military said fighting began overnight when a police station was attacked by "a significant number of aggressors" believed to be members of the Mehdi Army militia.

The statement said the attackers used heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and small arms in an assault on the police station around 3 a.m. (2300 GMT Wednesday).

Armed Iraqi Shi'ite militiamen patrol a street in the impoverished eastern Baghdad suburb of al-Sadr city, August 5, 2004. Hundreds of al-Sadr followers took to the streets of the Iraqi capital condemning the fighting between U.S forces and Sadr's Mehdi army militia in Najaf. [Reuters]

"Iraqi national guardsmen quickly reinforced Iraqi police, and the two units successfully defended the station from the attackers. Upon arrival of the marines, Mehdi Army members withdrew into the city's exclusion zone," the military said.

"The attack is an overt violation of the cease-fire agreement reached in June between coalition forces and Moqtada Sadr."

But Sheikh Mahmoud al-Sudani, a spokesman for Sadr, said U.S. forces and Iraqi police had attacked first.

As part of the truce agreed in June to end Sadr's uprising, U.S. troops said they would not enter parts of Najaf. The U.S. 1st Infantry Division, which had been in charge of security in the area, has recently been replaced by a force of marines.

An arrest warrant has been issued for Sadr in connection with the murder of a rival cleric in Najaf last year. But during truce negotiations with Sadr earlier this year, Iraqi officials said they would not seek his arrest.


In the mixed Sunni and Shi'ite town of Mahawil south of Baghdad, guerrillas detonated a car bomb and sprayed gunfire at a police station, killing at least six people and wounding 24, Iraqi government officials said.

Interior ministry spokesman Sabah Kadhim said three masked gunmen opened fire on the police station in the town, about 40 miles south of Baghdad, and then fled. A bomb in a minibus then exploded outside the building.

Kadhim said two senior police officers were also shot dead on Thursday in the town of Musayyib, near Mahawil.

Armed Iraqi Shi'ite militiamen, followers of the radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, patrol the streets of the eastern Baghdad suburb of Al Sadr city, August 5, 2004. [Reuters]
Police and Iraqi National Guardsmen have been frequent targets of bomb attacks by guerrillas opposed to the U.S.-backed government and the presence of U.S.-led troops in Iraq.

On Wednesday, guerrillas fought street battles with police in the northern city of Mosul after launching attacks on a police station, a power plant and a hospital.

The U.S. military said in a statement eight insurgents were killed during about three hours of clashes, but more than 14 civilians had also been killed and 31 wounded.

Last Sunday, a suicide car bomb attack on a police station in Mosul killed five people.


There was no new word on the fate of three Indians, three Kenyans and an Egyptian held by kidnappers who have threatened to behead them one by one. The kidnappers want the Kuwaiti firm that employs the men to stop doing business in Iraq and to pay compensation to the victims of U.S. strikes in Falluja.

Kuwait and Gulf Link Transport Company, which employs the men, issued a statement on Wednesday calling on the kidnappers to resume talks with tribal leader Sheikh Hisham al-Dulaymi, who has been acting as a mediator. The talks stalled after the guerrillas accused the firm of not taking them seriously.

Earlier this week four Jordanians and two Turks being held hostage in Iraq were freed. A local tribal chief led a raid to free the Jordanians in the city of Falluja, and the captors of the two Turks said they were being released.

Scores of hostages from two dozen countries have been seized in the last four months. Most have been freed but at least 10 have been killed, sometimes by beheading.

Turkish media said a Turkish truck driver was killed by guerrillas in Iraq this week after his convoy came under fire. NTV television said Osman Alisan, who had just delivered fuel oil to U.S. forces in Iraq, was shot dead on Monday in Filfayl, about 40 miles from the Turkish border.

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