Reports from southern Iraq say there's been another day of heavy fighting Friday between American troops and gunmen loyal to rebel cleric Motada al-Sadr near some of the holiest Shi'ite shrines.

More street fighting in Karbala between U.S. Army troops and al-Sadr militiamen armed with rockets and mortars, much of it taking place near the city's holy shrines.

In Baghdad, American General Mark Kimmitt denounced Islamic gunmen loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr, accusing them of attempting to hide within cemeteries and Shi'ite holy sites, knowing the outrage any direct U.S. attack on them would set off in the Muslim world.

"What gives you the right to violate the Shia religion? What gives you the right to use this to protect yourself and your troops?" he asked.

In Najaf, supporters of the wanted cleric showed reporters damage to the dome of the Imam Ali mosque, saying it was caused by American shellfire, a claim doubted by General Kimmitt.

Meanwhile, outside Baghdad, several hundred Iraqis were released from the Abu Ghraib prison, the same prison where American soldiers are accused of abusing inmates. Their release was part of a periodic freeing of Iraqi detainees and came a day after Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made a surprise visit to the facility during a brief unannounced trip to Iraq.