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Iraq | International

US Tanks Enter Najaf And Karbala!!
by sources
Thursday May 6th, 2004 9:23 AM
KERBALA, Iraq (Reuters) - U.S. tanks rolled into the Iraqi Shi'ite holy city of Kerbala on Thursday and took up positions close to the main shrines after destroying the offices of a radical cleric with heavy machinegun fire, witnesses said.

NAJAF, Iraq : US forces moved in to secure the governor's office, already occupied by Iraqi police, in a major military operation inside the holy city of Najaf.

Tanks moved to within 500 metres (yards) of the office in an area of the city they had not entered since the start of a month-long insurgency by followers of firebrand Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr, according to an AFP correspondent on Thursday.

Iraqi police have been back at the building since it was held briefly by Sadr's Mehdi Army in April, but the moves were part of a strategy the military announced to sideline the cleric.

Policeman Hussein Razak told AFP the US forces had secured the area around the governor's office.

Explosions and heavy gunfire were heard as US tanks, armoured vehicles and troops surrounded the city and moved to within a kilometre (less than a mile) of Shiite holy sites, an AFP correspondent said.

"All roads between Najaf, Kufa and Karbala have been cut off," said police Lieutenant Wissam Jasem in Najaf, 130 kilometres (80 miles) south of Baghdad.

Three armed Humvees and two tanks were spotted at a roundabout about five kilometres (three miles) northwest of the city before the start of the operation.

Another group of tanks and up to 30 soldiers were seen further from the city blocking the main road between Najaf and another flashpoint city, Karbala.

Clashes also broke out at Kufa, some 10 kilometres (six miles) from Najaf, after US overseer Paul Bremer announced a new provincial governor for the area.