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U.S. forces clash with insurgents near Mosul

At least 34 civilians wounded in fighting

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After the Najaf standoff, questions remain about the authority of Iraq's interim government.

Agreement ends standoff in Najaf.

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Imam Ali Mosque
Muqtada al-Sadr

MOSUL, Iraq (CNN) -- Clashes between U.S. forces and armed insurgents early Sunday near Mosul, northern Iraq, wounded 34 people, two of them seriously.

The U.S.-led multinational forces said the 34 were civilians, 26 of them women and children. There were no casualties among U.S. troops.

Two attackers were killed, the forces said in a statement.

The first attack occurred about 3 a.m. (7 p.m. Saturday ET) in Tal Afar, about 31 miles (50 kilometers) west of Mosul, when insurgents fired eight rocket-propelled grenades at a passing U.S. patrol, the statement said.

Some of the eight grenades were fired from a mosque, in violation of international law that prohibits the use of religious sites as sanctuary for combatants, according to the statement.

The second attack came about 6 a.m. (10 p.m. Saturday ET) in Tal Afar, when attackers used a rocket-propelled grenade against another U.S. patrol. That attack also originated from the mosque, the military's statement said.

U.S. soldiers returned fire in both attacks, killing two insurgents in the second attack.

Iraqi civilians nearby were "injured by flying debris and broken glass during the attacks," the statement said. Many had been sleeping on rooftops, where it is cooler in the summer night.

The wounded were taken to the Tal Afar Hospital, and the two civilians with serious injuries were taken to Mosul's general hospital, according to hospital officials.

On Saturday, U.S. forces detained 11 suspects in Tal Afar, including a "known anti-Iraqi leader," for planning and conducting attacks against multinational forces, according to a news release.

The U.S. military would not disclose the leader's identity to CNN, despite repeated phone calls.

Mosul has been the center of several recent acts of violence.

On Friday, U.S. forces detained six suspects in a similar raid to prevent attacks on multinational forces.

A Mosul University official was killed Saturday when gunmen opened fire on her vehicle as she headed to work, police said.

Meanwhile Sunday, French Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin demanded the release of two French journalists.(Full story)

"The French people as a whole, all origins and religions together, are together behind our compatriots Christian and Georges. Together we demand that they be set free," de Villepin said.

French President Jacques Chirac dispatched his foreign minister to Iraq on Sunday to try to secure the release of the two journalists.

The Arabic-language television network Al-Jazeera broadcast videotape Saturday showing Radio France International's Christian Chesnot and Le Figaro newspaper's Georges Malbrunot, who were reported missing the morning of August 21.

According to Al-Jazeera, the kidnappers are demanding that the French government overturn a law that bans Muslim students from wearing headscarves in French public schools.

The captors said they were with a group called the Islamic Army in Iraq.

The Islamic Army in Iraq is the same group that claimed to have kidnapped Italian journalist Enzo Baldoni and killed him last week after Italy refused to withdraw its troops. Italy is still trying to retrieve Baldoni's body. (Full story)

In July, the Islamic Army in Iraq claimed that it killed two Pakistanis, and early this month, it claimed to have kidnapped an Iranian diplomat.

Najaf cease-fire holding

A cease-fire in the violence-wracked city of Najaf continues to hold, and though sporadic gunfire has been reported since it went into effect Thursday, the city is relatively calm.

Nineteen bodies that were found near the Imam Ali Mosque were most likely killed before Saturday, Iraq's Ministry of Health reported Sunday.

On Saturday, Najaf residents returned to their homes and storekeepers surveyed the damage to their shops, as U.S. and Iraqi forces patrolled the Old City.

Before an agreement was brokered Thursday night by Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, U.S. and Iraqi forces had battled Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi militia, holed up in the Imam Ali shrine and positioned in the Old City alleys and the adjacent cemetery. Hundreds of militia members were killed in three weeks of fighting, a senior military official said.

As part of the truce, Iraqi security forces have assumed complete control for security in Najaf's Old City. U.S. Marines remain stationed in Najaf and neighboring Kufa "in a position to provide immediate assistance if requested by the government," according to 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit spokeswoman Capt. Carrie Batson.

Other developments

  • Turkish hostages Ali Daskin and Abdullah Ozdemir, who had been held captive in Iraq, were released Sunday after the companies they work for, Usluel and SA-RA, began pulling out of Iraq on Thursday. A group calling itself Mujahid Imam Brigades issued a video Wednesday showing the two hostages holding their passports and kneeling in front of masked militants.
  • In the Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City, fighting between militia loyal to al-Sadr and U.S. and Iraqi troops left 10 Iraqis dead and 126 others wounded from 9 a.m. Saturday until 9 a.m. Sunday (1 a.m. ET).
  • In the Sunni Muslim stronghold of Falluja, U.S. airstrikes wounded 20 people in the al-Askari neighborhood, the Health Ministry said. Lt. Col. Thomas Johnson from the 1st Marine Expeditionary Unit said U.S. Marines were responding to sporadic fire aimed at one of their positions.

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