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Mortar Lands Near Shiite Cleric’s Home

March 26, 2006

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ At least one mortar round slammed to earth within 50 yards of firebrand cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s home Sunday in the holy city of Najaf. The popular, anti-American Shiite leader was at home but not hurt, an aide said.

A child and at least one guard were wounded in the attack, Sheik Sahib al-Amiri said.

Iraqi troops sealed the area near al-Sadr’s home while the cleric’s Mahdi Army militia surrounded the structure after the attack, al-Amiri said. Al-Sadr lives near the Imam Ali shrine, one of the most important holy places for Shiites.

Shortly after the attack, the cleric issued a statement calling for calm.

``I call upon all brothers to stay calm and I call upon the Iraqi army to protect the pilgrims as the Nawasib (militants) are aiming to attack Shiites everyday,″ he said, referring to Wednesday’s commemoration marking the death of the Prophet Muhammad.

Najaf police chief called the assault a ``cowardly attack″ aimed at dividing the Iraqi people by those still loyal to Saddam Hussein.

``But this will not happen,″ Maj. Gen. Abbas Mi’adal told reporters near the house. ``We are ready to confront any terrorist schemes and protect the pilgrims.″

There were conflicting reports about the attack. Al-Sadr’s aide said two mortar rounds fell near the home wounding two guards and a child, while the police chief said it was just one mortar round that wounded one guard and a child.

Al-Sadr said American troops were trying to drag Iraqis into ``sectarian wars.″

``I call upon my brothers not to be trapped by the Westerners’ plots,″ he said.

Al-Sadr is a major force among Shiites, especially in Baghdad’s Sadr City slum. His powerful militia is accused of carrying out sectarian revenge killings after the Feb. 22 bombing of another important Shiite shrine in Samarra.

The cleric, who was on a regional tour when the Samarra attack took place, cut short his visit and came back ``in order for the country not to be pulled to street battles. I wanted to salvage the Iraqi people from these problems.″

Al-Sadr has close ties to Iran. His militia launched two uprisings against U.S. troops in 2004.

On Saturday, forces of the Shiite Mahdi Army militia and Sunni insurgents battled near Mahmoudiya, about 20 miles south of the capital. Seven people _ most civilians killed in their homes by mortar fire _ died in the gunbattle and several others were wounded.

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