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Battles near Iraqi shrines
KARBALA, Iraq American forces battled Iraqi militiamen amid heavy gunfire and explosions on Thursday near a shrine that is one of the most sacred sites of Shiite Islam.
Smoke wafted over the golden dome of the Imam Hussein shrine, apparently from a nearby power plant that had been set ablaze, as fighters loyal to the radical cleric Moktada al-Sadr pulled back and regrouped in alleyways north of it. U.S. soldiers were positioned west and south of the site.
Fighting also raged near Karbala's Imam Abbas shrine. American forces are concerned that any damage to the two shrines could enrage Iraq's majority Shiite population as the United States tries to stabilize Iraq ahead of a transition to sovereignty on June 30.
U.S. tanks, helicopters and jets had attacked al-Sadr's fighters in Karbala on Wednesday, partially destroying a mosque that insurgents used as a base. American forces killed 22 militants, and six coalition soldiers were wounded, Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt said in Baghdad.
Insurgents fired two mortar rounds in central Baghdad on Thursday, causing minor injuries, and a rocket landed in a gas plant at the Dora oil refinery in the capital, triggering a blaze that firefighters quickly extinguished.
Iraqi leaders in another holy city, Najaf, discussed how to resolve the confrontation between al-Sadr and the U.S.-led coalition that last month issued an arrest warrant against him in the murder of a rival cleric.
They have proposed that al-Sadr end the standoff with American troops if the coalition postpones its legal case against him and establishes an Iraqi force to patrol the city. The deal would also require U.S. forces to pull out of the city and Kufa, and al-Sadr's militia to lay down its weapons.
Iraq Update: Violent Clashes in Najaf, Karbala