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12 Aug 2004 07:14
Heavy overnight United States bombardment of Kut has killed 56 people and wounded more than 110, one day after clashes between police and Shi’ite Muslim militiamen in the southern Iraqi city, a medic said on Thursday.
“American planes started bombing the al-Shakia district, in southern Kut after 3am [11pm GMT on Wednesday],” said Kut hospital director, Khader Fadal Arar.
Many of the dead and wounded were women and children, he added.
“They destroyed 18 houses and killed 56 people and injured more than 110, some of them very seriously,” he said.
The bombardment followed a day of fierce clashes between Iraqi police and militiamen loyal to radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, in which at least two national guardsmen and three policemen were wounded.
The office of al-Sadr’s movement in Kut was flattened in the bombing, said a supporter of the militia leader, Sheikh Mohammed Yihyiah.
“Our office has been destroyed because it was in the same district, fortunately there were was no one in the office that’s why we have no casualties. Perhaps they thought it would be full of militiamen,” he said.
On Wednesdy, Iraqi police and security forces were locked in fighting against insurgents who attacked Kut’s city hall, police stations and national guard barracks, said a statement from the Polish-led force in the area.
The multinational force said people on both sides were killed and wounded, but did not specify a casualty toll.
Al-Sadr’s Mehdi army militiamen had blocked off streets and besieged the governor’s office in the eastern part of the town, armed with Kalashnikovs and rocket-propelled grenades, as US planes flew overhead.
Governorate spokesperson Majid Hameed said a written death threat had been delivered to the province’s governor because he had refused to bow to demands from al-Sadr supporters that Kut secede from Iraq with other Shi’ite provinces of the south and centre.
The multinational force in the area has “increased its combat readiness” and is prepared to support the Iraqi security forces,” said a statement from the Polish-led military issued late on Wednesday.
Kut fell briefly to the Mehdi army in the spring during al-Sadr’s first uprising against foreign troops.
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