Iraqi forces encircling Imam Ali Shrine in Najaf as at least five killed in Baghdad
U.S. and Iraqi forces battled Shiitte fighters tin Najaf on Tuesday and Iraqi National Guardsmen surrounded the holy city's Imam Ali Shrine, where followers of Muqtada al-Sadr have been holed up for weeks.
On his part, Iraqi Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan said the guardsmen will use loudspeakers to urge al-Sadr's supporters to evacuate the shrine and surrender. "If they don't ... listen to reason, then certainly there will be a very simple operation, a very simple raid," Shalaan told al-Arabiya television.
"The decisive hours are near," he said.
When asked if the operation could happen Tuesday he responded: "We will give the humanitarian option a greater chance ... but if we run out of patience, then this will mean that the hour for the military plan has come."
Witnesses in Najaf said the Iraqi forces accompanied American soldiers into the Old City for the first time in recent days on Tuesday and were stationed about 200 yards from the shrine.
"Today, they complete the operation of encircling the shrine compound," Shaalan said.
In Baghdad, assailants targeted the convoys of the interim government's ministers of environment and education in two separate bombings Tuesday, officials said. Neither of the ministers was hurt, but at least five people were reported killed.
In one attack, a car bomb went off in the southern Baghdad neighborhood of Qadisiyah as Environment Minister Miskhat Moumin was passing through in a convoy, ministry spokesman Dalal Ali said. Moumin escaped unharmed, Ali said, according to The AP.
Four people were killed and two others were injured in that explosion, police and hospital officials said.
In a second attack around the same time in the western district of al-Khadra, a roadside bomb went off as a convoy of vehicles was headed to pick up Education Minister Sami Mudhafar, the police said.
The education minister was not in the convoy at the time, the police brigadier said. The explosion killed one of Mudhafar's bodyguards and injured two others, he said.
© 2004 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)