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Al-Sadr Threatens Suicide Bombings if Coaliltion Attacks Iraqi Holy Cities - 2004-04-23


A radical Shi'ite cleric has threatened to unleash suicide bombers against coalition forces if they conduct military offensives in Iraqi cities holy to Shi'ite Muslims.

Moqtada al-Sadr issued the warning at Friday prayers in Kufa, just outside the holy city of Najaf.

The cleric has been holed up in Najaf, trying to avoid being captured or killed by coalition forces who have demanded he disband his illegal militia. A significant number of coalition forces are deployed outside the city.

Earlier, one coalition soldier was killed and at least five civilians were wounded in clashes after a coalition convoy was attacked by Shi'ite militiamen in the holy city of Karbala, north of Najaf.

Meanwhile, in the mainly Sunni city of Fallujah, U.S. General Mark Kimmitt said the coalition's patience is running out. He said that insurgents would have only "days" to comply with conditions for a permanent cease-fire or face a renewed coalition offensive.

Those conditions include disarming, which, so far, the fighters have failed to do.

And Iraqi officials say the death toll from Wednesday's coordinated suicide bombings in British-controlled Basra and Zubayr has risen to 74. Earlier figures had put the toll at 68.

Also Friday, Iraq's interim health minister released official casualty figures from this month's battle for control of Fallujah. He said 271 people were killed and nearly 800 others wounded. Earlier estimates put the death toll between 600 and 700 killed.

U.S. Marines laid siege to the city April 5, after four American civilian contractors were brutally killed.

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