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U.S. Turns Up Pressure on Shiite Cleric's Militia

U.S. forces, using tanks, armored personnel carriers and attack helicopters, pushed into the centers of two holy cities Wednesday in pursuit of bands of masked guerrillas loyal to a rebellious cleric at the heart of the Shiite insurgency.

In Karbala, U.S.-led forces worked with Iraqi police officers to seize a suspected weapons stockpile of the Mahdi Army, the militia loyal to Moqtada Sadr, a 31-year-old Shiite cleric who has emerged as a chief nemesis of the U.S. occupation. Troops came under rifle and mortar fire before dawn, U.S. officials said, setting off day-long street battles involving tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles and helicopters. After dark, in the city of Najaf farther south, U.S. forces attacked militia positions not far from the shrine of Ali, one of Shiite Islam’s most sacred mosques. Insurgents took refuge in Najaf’s vast and sand-covered cemetery, the most coveted burial site for Shiite Muslims. U.S. officials said the fighters hid behind tombs and staged rocket-propelled grenade and mortar attacks from the sanctuary.Full Story

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