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U.S. forces fight al-Sadr insurgents

Commander says about 30 militia members killed

A firefight erupts in Kufa between U.S. troops clashed and insurgents.

U.S. forces wait to see if truce offer holds in Najaf.

Soldier's death being investigated as a war crime.
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Muqtada al-Sadr
Armed Conflict

KUFA, Iraq (CNN) -- A firefight erupted Sunday night in Kufa, Iraq, when U.S. troops clashed with insurgents loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, the troops' commanding officer said.

Lt. Col. Pat White said 100 U.S. soldiers had entered Kufa on a reconnaissance mission to determine how many members of al-Sadr's Mehdi militia were there, according to CNN's Guy Raz, who is embedded with the 237 Armored Battalion.

White said about 30 insurgents were killed. There was no information on possible U.S. casualties.

The encounter comes after about three days of a shaky truce that has been marked by sporadic fighting. Al-Sadr pledged on Thursday to withdraw most of his militia from the Najaf region, which includes Kufa, if U.S. forces did the same.

The unit also searched a police station suspected of being a staging ground for militants attacking the U.S. military camp near the city.

White said nothing indicated the site was being used by insurgents, but determined they were hiding near the mosque and a nearby cemetery.

When the U.S. troops entered Kufa, they were met with grenade and small arms fire, and one tank was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, White said. The battle lasted for slightly more than an hour.

The fighting forced U.S. troops, who were using tanks, helicopters and armored personnel carriers, to return to their home base a short distance from the south-central Iraqi city, Raz reported.

A spokesman for al-Sadr, Sheikh Ahmed Al-Sebany, said the U.S. forces entered the city from three sides. The first group came from an American camp between Najaf and Kufa; the second moved in from Al-Sahil mosque, and the third from Aum al-Abisalt, a town outside Kufa.

Earlier Sunday, a U.S. reconnaissance patrol in Kufa came under rocket-propelled grenade fire on the east side of the Euphrates River and returned fire.

An attack at Najaf cemetery represented the first attack in the city since the al-Sadr agreement was proposed, coalition military spokesman Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said

Fighters armed with rocket-propelled grenades approached a checkpoint near Najaf's cemetery that was supposed to be manned by Iraqi police. U.S. forces manning the post fired at the armed men, who scattered. Two were detained. There were no reported casualties from those two earlier bouts of fighting.

U.S military: Iraqi deserting police force

About 100 Iraqi police who arrived in Najaf over the past week to begin joint patrols with U.S.-led coalition forces on Sunday apparently deserted their posts, U.S. military officials said.

In the past few days, U.S. forces coordinated and trained with Iraqi police to begin patrols in Najaf, a Shiite holy city, that has been besieged by fighting between U.S. forces and al-Sadr's militias.

It is not clear why the police left the city, but their disappearance added to the skepticism at the U.S. military base in Najaf that a unilateral peace agreement announced three days ago by Shiite representatives would quell the ongoing violence.

Coalition officials had hoped to eventually turn over the security situation in Najaf to Iraqi police, a measure called for by al-Sadr's agreement with other Shiite leaders.

While Iraqi police officers left no clues to a motive for their disappearance, al-Sadr's militia considers them collaborators with U.S. occupying forces and often targets them for attacks. Additionally, Iraqi police are not provided with body armor that might protect them while on duty.

The U.S.-led coalition was not involved in forming the details of al-Sadr agreement.

U.S. officials accuse al-Sadr, a maverick, anti-U.S. Shiite cleric, of fomenting unrest in a number of southern Iraqi cities, including the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala.

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

Attack on convoy kills 1

At least one person was killed Sunday when a four-vehicle convoy was attacked in northwestern Iraq, an Iraqi police commander said.

Gen. Jamal Abdulla said that one body -- believed to be that of an Iraqi driver of one of the vehicles -- was recovered. Three of the vehicles were burned and riddled with bullets; the fourth apparently got away.

Abdulla said there was nothing on the scene to indicate the nationality of those in the vehicles, although the large SUVs were of the type favored by Western contractors.

The incident took place at about 6:30 p.m. (10:30 a.m. ET), according to the commander, who said some local Iraqis engaged police in a firefight when the police arrived. Up to six of the locals were wounded in the battle, he said, but none sought help from the police.

It was not clear, he said, if those Iraqis were the people who attacked the convoy.

On Saturday, three U.S. Marines were killed in Iraq's vast Al Anbar province while conducting "security and stability operations," according to a coalition news release issued Sunday.

The coalition also reported the death of a U.S. soldier killed Tuesday in a mortar attack at a military base south of Baghdad.

Also, a U.S. soldier with the Stryker Brigade died Friday in Mosul, but the death was "not due to enemy fire," the U.S.-led coalition said Saturday.

With the deaths, 811 U.S. forces have been killed in the Iraq war, 594 from hostile fire. Of those, 672 have died since President Bush declared an end to major combat on May 1, 2003 -- 484 from hostile fire.

Other developments

  • The fire chief in Iraq's northern city of Kirkuk was shot dead along with three family members Saturday morning, according to police. Col. Mohammed Sabir Hameed, his wife, and her brother and sister, were all killed as the fire chief headed to his office, according to Kirkuk deputy police chief Gen. Torhan Yousif. They were all Kurds, and their assailants are unknown.
  • Iraqi police have ordered Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress to permanently abandon its office in Ramadi, west of Baghdad, INC official Haider al-Musawi said Sunday. Two weeks ago, former U.S. ally Chalabi's Baghdad compound was raided by U.S. and Iraqi forces.
  • Two mortars were fired at Iraq's Ministry of Construction and Housing in Baghdad Saturday morning, wounding four people, according to an Iraqi official.
  • The U.S. military changed the status of a soldier thought to have died in combat after a military probe found that he was captured and killed. Sgt. Donald Walters, part of the 507th Maintenance Company, which included former Pfc. Jessica Lynch, was found to have been taken captive March 23, 2003, when the company's convoy became lost in Nasiriya. He later was killed by unknown captors, the military probe found. (Full story)
  • CNN's Guy Raz contributed to this report.

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