US troops recapture central Iraq town

The United States army regained control of the central Iraqi city of Kut on Friday following fierce fighting with Shiite Muslim militiamen in the early hours, the US army and Iraqi police said.

“The US army is in control of Kut,” a US military spokesperson in Baghdad said.

A senior Iraqi police officer said in Kut that the US troops recaptured the city from Mehdi Army militiamen after destroying the offices of their leader, Shiite radical Moqtada al-Sadr, late on Thursday.

“US troops regained controlled of Kut at 2am [10pm GMT on Thursday] but the forces met fierce resistance from the Mehdi Army militiamen and the battle lasted until 5am [0100 GMT],” said Lieutenant Colonel Fahd Hassan.

Late on Thursday, the coalition “hit and levelled the headquarters of Moqtada al-Sadr” on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River, the officer said, adding that there were not thought to have been any casualties as the office was empty.

Ukrainian troops which were pushed out of Kut on Wednesday took part in the fighting to recapture the city, he said.

An AFP correspondent saw US military reinforcements on their way to Kut from the capital on Friday morning.

A convoy of about 100 vehicles—tanks, armoured vehicles, troop carriers and ambulances—was seen on the main highway to the city.

Iraqi police and members of the coalition-trained Iraqi Civil Defence Corps (ICDC) were deployed on the northern outskirts of the city.

The police colonel said US commanders had contacted him after the pre-dawn offensive and “asked me to get in touch with Kut television and instruct the staff there to resume normal broadcasting which had been interrupted”.

“They told me that if the Mehdi Army controls the television building they will hit it,” he added.

Hassan said he spoke to the television employees who were back on the job. “They told me that the militiamen had evacuated the premises and that transmission was interrupted due to a technical problem.”

The director of Kut’s emergency hospital, Abdel Kader Fadel, meanwhile said that Ukrainian troops searched the establishment on Thursday night looking for wounded militiamen.

“So far we have not received a single casualty. I think there are casualties out there among the Mehdi Army but they are afraid to come to the hospital and be arrested,” he said.

The US commander of ground forces in Iraq, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, said on Thursday the coalition would “imminently” retake Kut from Sadr’s militiamen.

In an interview with AFP in Sadr’s office across the Euphrates on Thursday, two of the radical leader’s spokesperson said his Mehdi Army militia was ready to fight to the last man.

“We are steadfast and are ready for any confrontation.
Allah has opened the way for our martyrdom and [for us] it will be victory or martyrdom,” Seyyed Mohammed Jawda said.

Sadr followers controlled the city Thursday in cooperation with Iraqi police and units from the ICDC. - Sapa-AFP

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