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Coalition Forces, Shi'ite Rebels Clash Near Najaf - 2004-04-27


U.S. military officials in Iraq say 43 militiamen have been killed in fierce overnight clashes with coalition forces near the Shi'ite holy city of Najaf.

A military spokeswoman said an anti-aircraft system belonging to the rebels was also destroyed in the fighting, which broke out late Monday about 10 kilometers from Najaf, near Kufa.

Coalition troops are poised around Najaf, but want to avoid being drawn into a potentially explosive battle with Shi'ite rebels there.

The U.S. military says the rebels, and their leader, radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, are using the city's mosques and shrines as bases and for the storage of weapons and ammunition.

Meanwhile, Spanish military officials say their troops have completed their withdrawal from Najaf. Spain's new prime minister says he will pull all of his country's 13-hundred troops from Iraq in the coming weeks.

In the tense mainly Sunni city of Fallujah, today (Tuesday) is the last day of an extended coalition cease-fire. Joint US-Iraqi patrols of the city were to begin, but the latest reports say they will probably not start until Thursday.

In Baghdad, U.S. military officials say one American soldier was killed (today) in the Shi'ite neighborhood of Sadr City. The military also said representatives from the International Red Cross have visited former dictator Saddam Hussein for a second time since his capture in December.

Information for this story is provided by AP, AFP, Reuters

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