Three U.S. soldiers killed in battle with Iraqi militia
U.S. troops check a truck heading to Najaf on Tuesday.
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NAJAF, Iraq (CNN) -- Three U.S. soldiers were killed in fighting in the south-central Iraqi town of Diwaniyah, the U.S. military said Wednesday.
They died Tuesday after coming under fire from militia members loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
After the attack, U.S. forces launched an offensive targeting militia buildings and other positions being used by insurgents.
"The coalition will not tolerate such attacks," said Col. Bradley May, the commander of the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment. "We will continue to conduct patrols and engage Muqtada's militia when they are encountered in Diwaniyah."
The U.S. forces raided the al-Sadr office in the town and seized weapons from an adjacent girls' school, believed to have been used by his militia to launch attacks. Coalition forces confiscated three 60-mm mortar tubes, 70 60-mm mortar rounds, and 10 rocket-propelled grenade rounds.
The military said its reconnaissance indicated more than a dozen militia members, armed with AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades, were in the al-Sadr office building shortly before the attack.
It appears the militants escaped before the building was struck, military officials said.
One U.S. soldier at a checkpoint was shot in the abdomen when a gunman opened fire from a vehicle, officials said. The soldier's unit returned fire on the car, destroying it and those inside.
The soldier, whose condition is not known, was airlifted to a hospital.
The town of Diwaniyah is along the Euphrates River about 40 miles east of the holy city of Najaf.
Al-Sadr, who is wanted by an Iraqi court in connection with the killing of a rival cleric, is believed to be holed up in Najaf with members of his militia, known as the Mehdi Army.
A U.S. soldier and at least 24 Iraqi militants have been killed in an ongoing battle between U.S.-led coalition forces and al-Sadr's militia in Karbala, according to coalition military officials.
The 1st Armored Division soldier died Wednesday after an attack on a coalition checkpoint in the Iraqi city south of Baghdad, the coalition said.
Early Wednesday, members of the Mehdi Army attacked the house of the mayor, said a police official.
Coalition forces returned fire, and the exchanges lasted until dawn.
Coalition forces have taken over buildings that the militia once occupied in an effort to establish law and order in the predominantly Shiite city, the coalition said.
Najaf force planned
In Najaf, a U.S. commander said Wednesday that American forces are working with clerics and moderate leaders to build up a local security force that would take control of the city.
Army Brig. Gen. Mark Hertling indicated the United States is operating delicately in the hot spot and doesn't want to be conspicuous and heavy-handed.
He said the fledgling force needs additional training that probably will be held within the next several weeks.
In a statement aimed largely at al-Sadr's militia, Shiite officials have called on all armed forces to preserve the "sanctity" of the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala and condemned the presence of nonofficial armies and the storage of ammunition there.
The statement followed a meeting Tuesday of Shiite officials -- both on and outside the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council -- who are intent on defusing tensions in the southern cities and reversing the deteriorating security situation.
Other developmentsPresident Bush gave interviews Wednesday with two Arabic-language television networks to help defuse the growing controversy over photos of U.S. military personnel forcing naked Iraqi prisoners into humiliating positions. Calling the abuse "abhorrent," Bush said that the perpetrators would be brought to justice (Full story)About 300 demonstrators railed against the United States on Wednesday outside Abu Ghraib, the prison west of Baghdad where the abuse of detainees occurred. Despite condemnation by the Bush administration and promises of reform at Abu Ghraib, protesters said they do not have faith in the United States to rectify the situation.A former Iraqi minister of human rights said Wednesday that allegations of human rights violations at Abu Ghraib were among the concerns about U.S. conduct that prompted him to resign before the Iraqi Governing Council. Abdul-Basat Turki said he asked coalition authorities about the allegations at Abu Ghraib and other detention facilities. He said he was refused access to these locations and appealed to the International Committee of the Red Cross for assistance.After escaping from insurgents in Iraq this week, former American captive Thomas Hamill was reunited Wednesday with his wife, Kellie, in Landstuhl, Germany, in a "very emotional" meeting, said a spokeswoman for the U.S. military hospital where Hamill is being treated for a forearm injury. (Full story)An attorney representing families of 14 Iraqis allegedly killed by British troops in southern Iraq filed a case in the High Court of London seeking a hearing to determine whether there should be public inquiry into their deaths. The families are seeking compensation for the loss of their loved ones. (Full story)U.S. troop strength in Iraq will remain at about 138,000 until the end of 2005, Pentagon officials said Tuesday. The Pentagon plans to deploy 10,000 active-duty soldiers and Marines, and 37,000 National Guard and Reserve troops to Iraq to maintain the current force level in the country, officials said. (Full story)
CNN's Jane Arraf and Mike Mount contributed to this report.