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US assault in Najaf to exclude key shrine
Updated: 2004-08-12 16:57

A US-led assault on the centre of the holy Iraqi city of Najaf on Thursday excludes a key shrine holy to Shi'ite Muslims worldwide, a US general said.

"Current clearing operations by Iraqi Security Forces and multinational forces in Kufa and Najaf are focused on areas in both cities, but do not include the Imam Ali Mosque nor the Kufa Mosque," Brigadier General Erv Lessel, the main spokesman for the US military in Iraq, said in a statement.

US and Iraqi forces were battling militiamen loyal to radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr near an ancient cemetery in the city and nearby town of Kufa while US tanks cordoned off the Imam Ali Mosque.

"Today's operations are designed to restrict freedom of movement of Sadr forces in Kufa and Najaf and to further isolate them in these mosques which they use as a base of operations," Lessel said.

"Militia use of these shrines as protective shields could lead to damage of these sacred sites."

The general said the operation was in "strict compliance with guidance from (interim) Prime Minister (Iyad Allawi) to safeguard and prevent possible harm to these holy shrines as well as protect the citizens and future of Iraq".

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