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US Forces Tighten Grip on Iraqi Holy City of Najaf - 2004-05-07

U.S. forces tightened their grip on the Iraqi holy city of Najaf as a senior cleric reportedly appealed to the Shi'ite insurgents to leave the city. The leader of the insurgency, Moqtada al-Sadr, delivered a defiant sermon at a mosque in the nearby town of Kufa.

Surrounded by hundreds of armed militiamen, wanted radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr delivered a sermon at the main mosque in Kufa, denouncing the United States over the reports of abuse of prisoners by U.S. troops.

U.S. forces, meanwhile, have intensified the crackdown on the insurgents, tightening their grip on Najaf and battling al-Sadr loyalists in Karbala.

In Najaf, senior Shiite cleric Sheikh Sadreddin Kubanji is reported by AFP to have called on the insurgents in Friday prayers to leave the city and return home.

Forces loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr on Friday reportedly shot and killed two journalists from Polish state television, as they drove from Baghdad to Najaf. A third journalist was wounded in that attack. The shooting took place near the site where several foreigners were killed earlier.

In another development, an audio tape said to have been made by al-Qaida terror group leader Osama bin Laden appeared on two Islamic Internet sites, offering rewards of gold for the assassinations of senior American and United Nations officials. The man on the tape specifically mentioned U.S. administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who is in Baghdad to help in choosing an interim Iraqi government.

The voice on the tape also offered rewards for the killing of citizens, whose countries have troops fighting in Iraq.