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US Troops, Iraqi Militias Clash in Kufa - 2004-05-28


U.S. troops and militiamen loyal to radical Shi'ite Cleric Moqtada al-Sadr clashed today (Friday) in the southern city of Kufa -- one day after the two sides agreed to a truce in the area.

The reports say fighting erupted near a mosque in Kufa where the radical cleric has been regularly addressing his followers after Friday noon prayers. He was not seen there today.

An Iraqi journalist working for the Iranian news agency is quoted (by the French press agency) as saying militiamen in the center of Kufa fired rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons at three U.S. tanks, and the American forces then returned fire.

Kufa is near Najaf, which has been the scene of fighting for several weeks. Reuters reports guns were silent in Najaf overnight following the truce agreement, and streets of the holy city were bustling with pilgrims.

U.S. - led coalition forces said Thursday they were halting all offensive operations in Najaf, after Shi'ite leaders said Moqtada al-Sadr had agreed to withdraw his militia from the area. Coalition spokesman Dan Senor said the Shi'ite cleric is still required to dissolve his militia completely, and face criminal charges, including murder, brought against him in an Iraqi court.

Mr. Senor says coalition forces will remain in Najaf and Kufa until Iraqi police and civil defense forces resume responsibility for the cities. Even after that point, the spokesman says, some troops will remain to protect coalition facilities and the provincial governor's building.

Elsewhere in Iraq, insurgents attacked a vehicle carrying two Japanese journalists south of Baghdad Thursday. The driver of the vehicle said both journalists were killed.

In Tokyo, Japan's Foreign Ministry confirmed the attack, but said it did not know the fate of the journalists.

In Fallujah, a U.S. television crew held captive since Tuesday has been released. The (NBC) network and U.S. military officials say the four men --one Iraqi and three Westerners -- were freed unharmed today, after talks involving members of the Fallujah Brigade -- an Iraqi security force supported by the U.S. - led coalition.

Information for this report is provided by AFP and Reuters.

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