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Iraq

Thu May 27 2004 Fighting in Karbala and Najaf ends for now
On May 22nd Sadr's militia agreed to leave Karbala and on May 27th there were signs that Sadr's troops may be pulled from Najaf if the US were to agree to also withdraw its troops from the city.

Weeks of fighting have resulted in dozens of Iraqi casualties and the destruction of many historical buildings in both Najaf and Karbala. The Shrine of Ali in Najaf was damaged twice resulting in outrage by Shiites worldwide. In Iran, the British embassy was attacked several times with fire bombs and the government warned the US about the dangers of its actions. In Bahrain, demonstrators clashed with police and the police overreaction forced the resignation of the interior minister. In Lebanon, over 200,000 marched in Beirut demanding an end to US attacks on the Shiite holy cities.

While fighting may soon end in the holy cities, US attacks on Sadr's militias in other cities are likely to continue. On May 23rd the US went on the offensive in Kufa (Sadr's main stronghold) killing dozens in heavy fighting that resulted in damage to the Selah mosque. There has also been fighting between Sadr's militia and coalition forces across much of Southern Iraq. British forces have been ambushed every day around the town of Majar al-Kabir and at nearby Amarah.

A poll conducted by the Iraq Center for Research and Strategic Studies shows that Moqtada al-Sadr is "Iraq's second most influential figure after Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the country's most senior Shia cleric. Some 32 per cent of respondents said they strongly supported Mr Sadr and another 36 per cent somewhat supported him". "For many of his followers, radical Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr has taken on the persona of a Robin Hood or a David fighting Goliath as he defiantly stands up to the US-led coalition. " Despite being a Shiite cleric, Sadr has considerable support among Sunnis too. Fallujan Sunni clerics have met with Sadr to talk of unifying the struggle for national liberation. A commander of two brigades of the Mehdi Army in Sadr City recently confirmed to Dahr Jamail that many Sunnis have joined the Shi’ite-led resistance force. "We have 700 Sunnis fighting with us here, because we are fighting so that our holy places aren’t destroyed like they are in Najaf, Kut and Kerbala...The Americans invaded us, and now they have made this a holy war."

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