A delegation of Iraqi political and religious figures arrived in Najaf by helicopter Tuesday to present Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr with a peace proposal aimed at ending the standoff in this holy city.
The 8-member delegation arrived at a U.S. military base in Najaf on Tuesday afternoon aboard two U.S. Army Blackhawk helicopters.
In the city itself, American troops and Shiite fighters have fought for nearly two weeks around the sacred Imam Ali Mosque and a vast ancient cemetery. On Tuesday morning, fresh fighting sparked off between the two sides, reported Al Jazeera.
US military vehicles were burnt in the fighting, the report said, quoting reliable sources.
Later, at least one U.S. warplane was dropping bombs near the city's cemetery, the site of recent clashes between U.S. occupation forces and Shiite fighters.
The clashes Tuesday killed at least three people and injured 15 others, all of them civilians, according to rescue worker Sadiq al-Shaibany, quoted by The AP.
Two of the casualties were killed when gunfire hit the office of the Badr Brigades, the military wing of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which is not involved in the fighting, according to Ridha Taqi, a SCIRI official.
Iraqi officials meeting in Baghdad on Monday to select an interim national assembly decided to dispatch the team after Sadr's weekend peace talks with the government broke down and the cleric and his Mehdi Army vowed to fight to the death.
Meanwhile, British soldier was killed in fighting in southern Iraq. Another British soldier was injured in the firefight with Shiite fighters in Basra.
British Ministry of Defense chiefs had said earlier there had been two casualties in Basra.
Explosions and rifle fire echoed across the city as a number of small engagements broke out.
Witnesses said al-Sadr followers used rocket-propelled grenades in the firefight. A hotel was damaged and two Iraqi civilians were wounded.
Foreigners travelling in three British vehicles were taken to safety by British troops in Basra after their convoy was hit by a roadside bomb.
Witnesses said Sadr's men attacked the vehicles and that at least one of the foreigners was wounded.
Earlier in the day, Police Chief Maj. Gen. Ghalib al-Jazaari said activists loyal to al-Sadr broke into his family's house in the southern city of Basra and kidnapped his handicapped and ailing 80-year-old father.
"They dragged him on the street in front of the local residents," al-Jazaari said, according to The AP. He added the gunmen were accompanied by police loyal to al-Sadr and they told him his father, Hadi Kudhaiyer al-Jazaari, would only be freed if al-Jazaari was willing to take his place in captivity. Al-Jazaari said he would not give in.
In Baghdad, assailants ambushed American forces with rocket-propelled grenades and bombs in a series of attacks, killing one U.S. soldier and wounding several others, the U.S. Army said Tuesday.
The attacks took place Monday in the east of the city, and three armored vehicles were destroyed in the assaults, the Army said in a statement. (albawaba.com)
© 2004 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)