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Coalition Fighting Muslim Resistance in Southern, Central Iraq - 2004-04-09


A year after US led coalition forces seized Baghdad from Saddam Hussein, coalition forces are fighting increasing resistance from Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims across central and southern Iraq.

In the mainly Sunni Muslim town of Fallujah where US Marines have been battling insurgents for the past five days, US officials declared a unilateral 24-hour cease-fire. It was called so talks could be held between members of the US - appointed Iraqi Governing Council and insurgent leaders.

It was not clear whether a meeting has taken place, but commanders on the ground say the pause lasted only 90 minutes, and they resumed fighting after coming under attack by insurgents.

Iraqis say at least 450 people have been killed and more than one thousand wounded in fighting there this week. That figure could not be independently verified. Women, children and the elderly were allowed to leave Fallujah.

In Baghdad, meanwhile, the atmosphere was relatively calm until an apparent mortar shell exploded near a hotel (Ishtar Sheraton) where foreign journalists and civilian contractors stay. No casualties were reported.

Earlier in the day, US soldiers tore down portraits of radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr hanging on a column in the same square (Firdus) where a year ago US forces toppled a statue of Saddam Hussein to the cheers of Iraqis.

West of the capital, the US military said at least one American soldier and an Iraqi driver were killed in an attack on their convoy.

Meanwhile, in other parts of central and southern Iraq, U-S and coalition forces continued efforts to crush a rebellion by Moqtada al-Sadr's al-Mahdi militia.

US General Mark Kimmitt said (today/Friday) the main hot spots are areas in the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala, where the Shi'ite militia has partial control. He said the coalition is taking a passive role in dealing with the militia until Arbaeen religious observances are over.

More than one million Shi'ite pilgrims are expected in the holy cities for the observance. The coalition has warned them to exercise caution.

General Kimmitt said he expects US forces to be in complete control of the town of Kut by Saturday morning. The al-Mahdi militia seized Kut Wednesday from Ukrainian troops.

And in Baquba, northeast of Baghdad, clashes erupted after Friday prayers between insurgents and US troops.

In London, the Foreign Office says a British national was killed in Iraq. No further details were given.

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