Militant supporters of radical Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr kept their hold on a sacred religious shrine Sunday as fighting flared around the holy city of Najaf, south of Baghdad.
U.S. warplanes pounded targets in Najaf during the early-morning hours, hitting entrenched positions held by Shi'ite fighters in the city's huge cemetery district. A Reuters correspondent in Najaf reports American tanks advanced to within 800 meters of the city's Imam Ali shrine, and other accounts tell of snipers firing on U.S. military vehicles.
Talks in Najaf between Shi'ite religious leaders and Moqtada al-Sadr's militias are said to remain at an impasse.
Representatives of Iraq's most senior Shi'ite Muslim cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, have called on all fighters to vacate the shrine. The militants claim they are willing to leave, but only if Ayatollah al-Sistani's aides inventory the shrine's treasures -- artworks, gold and cash. Gunmen from the pro-Sadr militias say they do not want to be accused of damaging or stealing anything.
Information for this report is provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.