Coalition forces in Iraq have clashed with militiamen loyal to radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in several cities, leaving at least 15 Iraqis and four US soldiers dead.
Ten militiamen were killed in the central city of Karbala after firing mortars and rocket-propelled grenades at coalition positions. Troops also captured 18 militiamen during the operation.
Five other militiamen were killed near Kufa when U-S forces fired on Iraqis unloading weapons from a vehicle.
One American soldier was killed in an attack on a coalition checkpoint near Karbala. US troops also raided and occupied a building being used by Moqtada al-Sadr's militia in Diwaniyah, where three U-S soldiers died in clashes Tuesday.
And in Najaf, where the cleric is based, coalition troops traded gunfire with militiamen in the city's enormous cemetery.
Meanwhile, a group of influential Shi'ite clerics and leaders have urged Moqtada al-Sadr and his militia to leave Najaf and Karbala in hopes of avoiding coalition attacks on the city. The clerics also called on the US military to remain outside the two cities.
Elsewhere, a Canadian businessman kidnapped last week by unknown captors was freed. A Canadian Foreign Ministry spokesman said the man was released Tuesday in Baghdad and has left Iraq.