Some 300 killed in firefights near Najaf as 15 killed in blasts
American and Iraqi forces killed some 300 gunmen in a day-long battle involving American tanks and aircraft near the Shi'ite holy city of Najaf, Iraqi police, army and political sources said.
The U.S. military said on Monday it was an ongoing operation so it could not provide any details.
According to Reuters, an Iraqi army source said U.S. forces took control of the operation on Sunday and bombing continued in the area on Monday, which was the climax of Ashura. Two US servicemen died, the U.S. military said on Sunday, when a US helicopter went down during the battle.
Police Colonel Ali Nomas said 300 to 350 gunmen had been killed in the operation and dozens more captured. Three Iraqi soldiers died and six more missing, and five policemen were killed. Another 40 Iraqi police and soldiers were injured.
According to one Iraqi political source, hundreds of fighters, drawn from both Sunni and Shi'ite communities, fought throughout Sunday and late into the night. The political source said up to 1,000 fighters had been involved. An Iraqi army source said they wore camouflage and appeared well organised.
On his part, Najaf governor Asaad Abu Gilel told Reuters the authorities had uncovered a scheme to kill prominent Shi'ite clerics in Najaf on Monday, to coincide with the climax of Ashura, the annual Shi'ite rite marking a 7th century battle which entrenched the schism between Shi'ite and Sunni Islam. "There is a conspiracy to kill the clergy on the 10th day of Muharram," he said.
Meanwhile, mortar rounds rained down on a Shiite neighborhood in the Sunni-dominated town of Jurf al-Sakhar, 40 miles south of Baghdad, Monday morning, police spokesman Capt. Muthanna Khalid said. According to him, 10 were killed, including three children and four women, and five other people were wounded.
Also on Monday, a parked car bomb also struck a bus carrying Shiites to a holy shrine in northern Baghdad, killing at least four people and wounding six, police said, according to the AP. The explosion reported when a small car parked nearby went off at about 9:30 a.m. as the pilgrims were boarding the bus on Palestine Street.
Elsewhere, a bomb hidden under a concrete barrier exploded as workers were paving a street in an intersection in a predominantly Shiite area in eastern Baghdad, killing one worker and wounding two others, police said.