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57 Dead in Iraq Fighting; Bremer Blames 'Outlaw' Shi'ite Cleric - 2004-04-05


Fighting in Iraq between coalition troops and Shi'ite Muslim militias that support radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has killed nearly 60 people since Sunday, prompting the U.S. administrator in Iraq to denounce the Shi'ite leader today (Monday) as an outlaw who is threatening Iraq's security.

Paul Bremer, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, says attempts by Moqtada al-Sadr and his supporters to seize control of parts of Baghdad and other cities will not be tolerated. Mr. Bremer told reporters that coalition forces will -- in his words -- "reassert the law and order which the Iraqi people expect."

Fresh fighting between American troops and armed supporters of Moqtada al-Sadr is under way (today) in the Iraqi capital's Sadr City neighborhood, scene of Sunday's heaviest casualties. U.S. helicopters have been firing on militia positions in the crowded district.

At least 28 Iraqis and seven Americans died Sunday in Sadr City. Another 22 people -- all but two of them Iraqis -- died in the holy city of Najaf, in the south, when a demonstration by Moqtada al-Sadr's supporters turned violent.

U.S. forces closed off roads leading to Fallujah today and prepared to launch what is described as a major offensive against opposition elements. Fallujah, scene of many previous insurgent attacks against coalition forces, is the city where four American civilians were killed, burned and mutilated last week.

A mob paraded through Fallujah with the victims' charred corpses, then hung them from a bridge in Fallujah in a public display of defiance and opposition. The U.S. military had vowed a tough response to those killings.

U.S. military authorities say fighting broke out in Baghdad Sunday when coalition troops intervened to prevent Shi'ite militias from taking over police stations and other public buildings in the Sadr City neighborhood. In addition to the 35 deaths that were reported, hospital workers said more than 200 people were wounded.

Earlier Sunday, near the southern city of Najaf, at least 20 Iraqis, one American and a Salvadoran soldier died in an exchange of gunfire between troops and Shi'ite militiamen. Coalition forces said they were fired on from a crowd that had gathered for a protest demonstration, and they returned fire.

Moqtada al-Sadr reportedly has told his supporters in a statement circulated today that demonstrations are no longer effective, and they should "terrorize" their enemy.

Reports from the southern city of Basra say the radical cleric's supporters have occupied a government building there. Few other details are available.

information for this report is provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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