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Iraqi cleric's aide arrested in Najaf


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U.S. forces deny any role in damage to Najaf shrine.
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NAJAF, Iraq (CNN) -- A prominent aide to renegade Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr was arrested early Wednesday in Najaf, according to U.S. military officials and a representative of al-Sadr's office.

Riyad al-Nori was arrested at his house as Army forces carried out a series of raids in the south-central Iraqi city, officials said.

Al-Nori is one of several al-Sadr supporters accused in last year's killing of Ayatollah Abdul Majid al-Khoei in Najaf.

Militia loyal to al-Sadr have been battling U.S.-led coalition forces in the region for weeks. The coalition has said it wants to capture al-Sadr, who is wanted in connection with the killing.

U.S. forces also raided the house of Fo'ad al-Tofi -- an official spokesman for al-Sadr -- but he was not home at the time. Three of al-Tofi's brothers were taken into custody and are being held at a U.S. base.

Shortly after the raids, a U.S. C-130 aircraft fired on militia members who were shooting at U.S. troops, military officials said.

A hospital official in Najaf said 11 people were killed and 60 others wounded during the conflict Tuesday night into Wednesday morning.

Over the past two days, the Shiite holy city has been without water and electricity, reports said.

One of the most sacred shrines for Shiites, the Imam Ali mosque, was damaged Tuesday by some type of explosion outside its walls.

A U.S. military spokesman denied that coalition forces were involved in any fighting near the Najaf shrine and said they did not fire any mortar or artillery that could account for the damage, which was described as minor.

"We have heard different reports as to what caused it," Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said. "Whether it was two factions fighting, or it was [al-Sadr's] militia firing from the cemetery trying to provoke outrage, we don't know."

U.S. officials have said they have taken great pains to avoid shrines.

"On behalf of the coalition, we can't tell you how much we decry attempts by Muqtada's militia -- perhaps by Muqtada himself -- to violate the holy shrine for his own personal gain," Kimmitt said.

"We will not allow that to go unanswered, nor will we allow ourselves to be provoked into an action that might have the same outcome."

Angry Iraqis gathered outside the mosque in Najaf to protest.

CNN's Jane Arraf and journalist Mohammd Sharif contributed to this report.


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