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Al-Sadr vows to continue fight


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NAJAF, Iraq (CNN) -- Coalition forces said they had killed 20 to 25 Iraqi militia loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr in Karbala, as the radical Shiite cleric said his militia will continue to fight U.S. forces.

Al-Sadr's forces fought U.S. troops near a mosque in Karbala, during an ongoing U.S.-led operation to disarm insurgents, according to a senior coalition military official.

And late Wednesday, U.S. soldiers on routine patrol in Najaf killed three suspected Mehdi militia when they came under fire from rocket-propelled grenades and small arms, a U.S. military official told CNN.

The official said the Army patrol, which suffered no casualties, was 1,500 to 2,000 meters away from the Imam Ali mosque -- and not inside the holy district of the city -- when they were attacked.

Speaking at a news conference Wednesday in Najaf, al-Sadr said he would dissolve the Mehdi militia when there is an elected government in Iraq.

For now, al-Sadr said, he would "continue to fight the American occupation" and saluted the militia members in Najaf and Karbala, urging them to stand together.

Al-Sadr also said that "if the Americans escalate the situation, I will also escalate it, and if the Americans calm things down, so will I."

Iraqi sources told CNN that al-Sadr representatives in Najaf, along with the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the Islamic Dawa Party and the Islamic Workers' Party, are trying to reach agreement to end the fighting.

One of the proposals is an Iraqi security force that would include members of the militia, Iraqi sources said.

It also calls for the removal of U.S. troops from Najaf and the eventual disbanding of the Mehdi Army, Iraqi sources told CNN. U.S. troops would not be allowed to enter Najaf or attempt any military operations against al-Sadr's forces.

Also proposed is a plan to put al-Sadr on trial under the supervision of Grand Ayotollah Ali Sistani. Al-Sadr is wanted in connection with the killing of a rival cleric last year

In the overnight fighting in Karbala, seven coalition soldiers were wounded, according to the coalition. Four have since returned to duty.

The coalition forces, supported by the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps and Iraqi security forces, also seized weapons and ammunition, including pipe bombs and rocket launchers.

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  • The videotaped beheading of an American hostage in Iraq has prompted outrage, with one official saying the "psychopaths" responsible will face prompt judgment. An al Qaeda-linked Web site posted the video Tuesday. In it, the American -- Nicholas Berg -- speaks briefly before being beheaded by his masked captors. (Full story)
  • Lawmakers gathered behind close doors to view what several described as "appalling" and "horrifying" pictures, slides and video clips of abuse and sexual acts Wednesday. "Take our word for it. They're disgusting," said Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority whip. McConnell, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, and Sen. John Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, all said the pictures should be kept under wraps. But some lawmakers have urged the Bush administration to allow the photographs to be released in order to prevent further shocking disclosures. (Full story)
  • A spokesman for Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has announced the deaths of two Filipino civilian contractors in northern Iraq. According to Ignacio Bunye, the mortar attack took place Tuesday night at the Balad air base north of Baghdad.
  • The U.S. Army general in charge of the investigation into abuse of some Iraqi prisoners told a Senate committee hearing Tuesday that "a failure of leadership" was to blame for the situation but said there was no evidence the soldiers involved were acting under orders. (Full story)

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