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Attack kills 3 U.S. MPs, 2 Iraqi policemen

Coalition troops block a road leading into Karbala earlier this week.
Coalition troops block a road leading into Karbala earlier this week.

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A fierce gunbattle near a mosque in the holy Shiite city of Karbala continued Friday, after three U.S. military police and two Iraqi police were killed by a previously unknown faction, according to coalition officials.

Five U.S. military police and two Iraqi police were wounded in the attack, which involved rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47 gunfire, U.S. Maj. Ralph Manos said.

Manos did not specify the circumstances of the attack in his official coalition account of what happened.

"While on routine patrol, Iraqi police and American MPs (military police) were attacked by 20 to 30 Iraqis," Manos said. There were no other coalition casualties, he added.

Coalition officials told CNN's Jane Arraf that the violence began late Thursday when the joint military police patrol tried to disarm the unknown, armed faction that established itself near a mosque in Karbala.

Tensions have been high in Karbala, south of the Iraqi capital, where there is a power struggle among rival Shiite factions.

Speaking at a mosque near Karbala last week, Muqtada al-Sadr -- a firebrand Shiite cleric -- announced during his Friday sermon he was forming an Islamic state in Iraq and called for "peaceful demonstrations" by those who agree. After little showing of support, he later withdrew his proposal.

Since the Iraq war began in March, 335 U.S. troops have been killed -- 215 by hostile fire -- including the overnight casualties in Karbala. Of those, 196 U.S. troops have died -- 100 by hostile fire -- since President Bush declared an end to major combat in Iraq in May.

-- From CNN Correspondents John Raedler, Harris Whitbeck and Baghdad Bureau Chief Jane Arraf.


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