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Dozens of Iraqi insurgents killed in clashes

Mortar attack kills 4 Iraqi army recruits

U.S. forces traded fire with the militia of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in the Muslim holy city of Najaf.

Announcing the casualty count of the enemy in Iraq could have both advantages and disadvantages.

Urban warfare erupts as U.S. soldiers take on al-Sadr loyalists in Najaf.
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Muqtada al-Sadr

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Insurgents and U.S. troops battled across Iraq as talk of Shiite peace moves competed with sounds of mortars and gunfire in Najaf, the stronghold of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mehdi Army militia.

The death count over the last 24 hours was high for insurgents: 21 in the Baghdad area, 16 near Amarah, and four in Karbala, where coalition troops and the Mehdi militia have been fighting for the last four days, coalition officials said Saturday.

In the northern city of Mosul, a mortar or a rocket-propelled grenade struck a line of Iraqi civilians lined up outside an army recruitment center, killing four recruits and wounding 15 others.

Five U.S. soldiers have died in the past 24 hours -- three in separate attacks Friday, one in a vehicle accident shortly after midnight, and another from natural causes, according to coalition news releases issued Saturday.

The deaths brought to 782 the number of U.S. forces killed in the Iraq war, 643 of them since President Bush declared the end of major hostilities on May 1, 2003. Five hundred seventy of the U.S. deaths have come in hostile actions, 460 of those since May 1, 2003.

In his Saturday radio address, President Bush restated his resolve on Iraq, saying, "We must confront the enemy and stay on the offensive until these killers are defeated." (Full story)

Coalition officials have predicted an increase in insurgent attacks as the June 30 sovereignty handover approaches. U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi is in the country, helping Iraqi authorities develop a caretaker government.

But the bloodshed still worries Iraqi authorities, who want the handover and elections next year to be held in a secure, peaceful environment.

U.S. Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said that there has been progress in stamping out instability -- for example in Fallujah, where there has been calm since Iraqi patrols were integrated into the security force in the city -- but the battles still continue in bastions of al-Sadr support.

In Karbala, Kimmitt said that for the fourth day in a row, militia continue to attack coalition forces around a former mosque complex there. Over the last 24 hours, four enemy fighters were killed, and one coalition soldier was wounded, he said.

Coalition spokesman: Al-Sadr must face justice

In Najaf, it was relatively quiet compared with recent days. In one incident, six mortar rounds landed near the provincial governor's building. There were no casualties or damage. There was also a U.S. incursion Friday night into the cemetery, at the Imam Ali Shrine, where insurgents ambushed troops hours earlier.

The Najaf fighting persisted despite efforts over the last week by Shiite leaders and al-Sadr to reach a peace agreement. Coalition spokesmen Saturday repeated non-negotiable demands for the militia.

"Our goal has been clear for some time," said Coalition Provisional Authority spokesman Dan Senor. "Muqtada al-Sadr must face justice and he must disband and disarm his militia."

"We have been saying from the day the situation unraveled," Senor said, adding later "that is our plan."

Al-Sadr is wanted in connection with the killing of a rival cleric.

Senor and Kimmitt said they appreciate peace-making efforts by citizens.

One of the ideas floated was that the militia and U.S. troops leave the city. The coalition believes that it would stay as far out of the city as practical.

There have been hopes for a negotiated settlement. Fliers were handed out in the streets of Najaf Thursday and affixed to walls outlining an agreement between al-Sadr and other groups.

It said all parties, including al-Sadr's forces, agreed to end armed militias, dissolve the Mehdi Army and turn it into a political party, develop a security force that would include the Mehdi Army, turn over government buildings and postpone the trial of al-Sadr, wanted in connection with the killing of a cleric.

The streets of Najaf are normally bustling as pilgrims flock to Shiite holy sites, but the fighting has many businesses shuttered.

In other violence:

  • British soldiers, responding to a convoy attack in southern Iraq, killed 16 insurgents Friday near Amarah, according to a British military spokesman. The soldiers returned fire toward the attackers who ambushed the two-vehicle British military convoy with rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire, Capt. Hisham Halawi said.
  • Fourteen fighters were killed Friday in the al-Sadr stronghold of Sadr City and seven attackers were killed in the western part of the city. Also, Kimmitt said unknown assailants shot and killed six people in what the coalition calls "Iraqi-on-Iraqi" violence.
  • There was fighting overnight in Nasiriya, where the CPA building and coalition patrols were attacked. Coalition forces soon established control of the city.
  • A rocket landed Saturday in the Green Zone, the coalition headquarters complex in Baghdad. A soldier and a civilian were injured.
  • Of the U.S. deaths, the first 1st Armored Division soldier died around 3 p.m. Friday (6 a.m. ET) hours after a mortar attack on his unit south of Baghdad. The second 1st AD soldier died from bullet wounds received when his unit was ambushed, also south of Baghdad, by a sniper.

    A third soldier from the 13th Corps Support Command died around 8 p.m. Friday (midnight ET) from wounds received in a car bomb attack in the town of al-Tarmya, north of Baghdad. Another soldier was also wounded in the attack.

    The fourth soldier died when his vehicle overturned while he was on patrol, shortly after midnight Saturday.

    The fifth soldier was found unconscious Friday and transported to the 31st Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad where he was pronounced dead shortly before 7 a.m. (11 p.m. Thursday ET).

    Other developments

  • U.S. Army Cpl. Charles Graner has been added to the courts-martial arraignments scheduled for May 20, joining two other soldiers charged in the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, a senior coalition military official said Friday. A fourth soldier is scheduled to be arraigned May 19. (Full story)
  • The U.S. military will not use certain prisoner interrogation techniques in Iraq -- including sleep and sensory deprivation -- following the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, Pentagon officials said Friday. (Full story)
  • The top U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, told Iraqi provincial officials that the United States would leave Iraq if the government in power after sovereignty asked them to -- but he indicated that such a request would be implausible.
  • CNN's Jane Arraf and Ben Wedeman contributed to this report.

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