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U.S. Forces Clash With Al-Sadr’s Gunmen

August 2, 2004

NAJAF, Iraq (AP) _ U.S. forces clashed Monday in the holy city of Najaf with gunmen protecting the home of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s. One woman was killed and three people were wounded, a hospital official said.

The U.S. military had no immediate comment.

At least six U.S. military vehicles entered the Zahra area in Najaf near al-Sadr’s house, which is protected by his militia, the Mahdi Army, witnesses said.

Heavy gunfire and mortar rounds set cars on fire before Iraqi police intervened and the U.S. forces withdrew, witnesses said.

``One woman was killed and we have three injured,″ said Ajwak Kadhim, director at Al-Hakim Hospital in Najaf, 100 miles south of Baghdad.

Ali al-Yassiry, a Baghdad spokesman for al-Sadr, said U.S. troops briefly surrounded al-Sadr’s house in Najaf but then withdrew from the city. He said the fighting had ended and the Mahdi Army was patrolling the area.

Al-Sadr, who is wanted by U.S. forces on an Iraqi warrant charging him in the April 2003 murder of a moderate cleric in Najaf, was in his house at the time, witnesses said.

The radical cleric, who has grassroots support for his anti-coalition stance, began a two-month rebellion in early April after the U.S.-led occupation authority closed his newspaper and arrested a key aide. A series of truces ended the fighting, and a decision on his arrest on the murder warrant was set aside.

(LEADS thruout to correct place of clashes to Najaf; CHANGES dateline; ADDS new graf 6 to UPDATE with comment from al-Sadr’s spokesman)

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