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Tension Remains High in Najaf as US Soldiers Clash with Militants - 2004-05-07


American commanders in Iraq say their soldiers are continuing to take fire from armed militias in several Shiite holy cities in the south, despite having been able to install a new governor in Najaf. In Washington, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld took full responsibility for the abusive treatment of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers.

After several days of heavy fighting, the U.S. military command in Iraq is not yet ready to declare victory in putting down the rebellion, led by Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, in Karbala and several other southern cities, but General Mark Kimmitt left no doubt the coalition now believes it has the upper hand. ?We're running patrols in and out to ensure freedom of movement through Karbala and right now the situation seems quite calm, with the exception of a couple of small outposts or pockets of resistance left inside the city,? he said.

American soldiers continue to take sporadic fire from Sadr militiamen in Najaf, where a new governor, who is promising to back the U.S. led coalition, has now been installed.

?Today at midday, coalition patrols were attacked by rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire during two engagements,? he stated. ?Forces returned fire, killing 12 Moqtada militia.?

In nearby Kufa, disciples of Moqtada al-Sadr gathered for Friday prayers, where the Shiite cleric again urged followers to demand full sovereignty for Iraq with what he said should be an honestly elected government that is independent.

He also labeled President Bush's apology for the abusive treatment of Iraqi prisoners inadequate, saying those responsible for photographing naked Iraqi prisoners in simulated sex acts should be punished in the same way and put in the same prison.

Telling Congress the events occurred on his watch, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld apologized and took full responsibility for the prisoner abuse. With Democratic opponents calling for his resignation, he reflected on the wisdom of remaining on the job.

?If I felt I could not be effective, I'd resign in a minute,? he acknowledged. ?I would not resign simply because people simply try to make a political issue out of it.?

He added that there are hundreds more pictures as well as videotapes of prisoner abuse than those that have already come out and told lawmakers that he is considering ways to compensate Iraqis who suffered.

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