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Fighting Rages in Iraq, US Death Toll Reaches 1,000 - 2004-09-07


U.S. forces have been battling insurgents in Sadr City, a Baghdad slum where hostilities have frequently erupted. At least 34 people have been killed. Meanwhile there has been little new information about the fate of two French hostages held captive for more than two weeks.

U.S. commanders say they moved tanks and armored personnel carriers into Sadr City in response to an attack by militants on a routine U.S. patrol. Fighter planes were also deployed over the area, a Baghdad slum known for its fierce resistance to the U.S. occupation.

Iraqi health officials say Tuesday's fighting was the latest in a series of confrontations between U.S. forces and the militants in the last 24 hours.

[Meanwhile, the number of American military personnel killed in Iraq since the March, 2003 U.S.-led invasion reached 1,000 Tuesday. White House spokesman Scott McClellan says those killed made "the ultimate sacrifice." He said the best way to remember them, as well as the victims of the September 11th terrorist attacks, is to press ahead with the war on terror.]

Militants in Sadr City, a Shi'ite neighborhood, are loyal to radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Last month, Shia leaders brokered a peace deal that ended a three-week siege of the city of Najaf, where Mr. al-Sadr's forces occupied a holy shrine.

But talks by both U.S. and Iraqi officials with local leaders, that include the promise of reconstruction aid to the impoverished neighborhood, have so far failed to end the conflict.

Last month aides to Mr. al-Sadr announced a nationwide ceasefire, but it appears not to have gone into effect.

Also on Tuesday, Baghdad's governor Ali al-Haidiri escaped unharmed after militants ambushed the convoy he was driving in. Witnesses say gunmen opened fire on the convoy and a bomb was detonated. One person in the area was killed.

Meanwhile the French ambassador to Iraq has met with local Islamic leaders as part of continuing efforts to free two French journalists taken hostage by militants.

Georges Malbrunot and Christian Chesnot disappeared outside Najaf on August 20. Militants have since released videotapes demanding that France repeal a law that prohibits Muslims from wearing headscarves to school, a demand France rejected.

Hopes had been raised about a release last week after both French and Iraqi Islamic groups issued an appeal on the hostages' behalf.

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