Nine killed in Mehdi Army clashes in Iraq’s Karbala

Nine people were killed, including several civilians, in clashes between United States soldiers and militia fighters in Iraq’s holy Shi’ite city of Karbala on Friday, police and hospital sources said.

The clashes broke out at about dawn when US soldiers entered Kerbala, 110km south-west of Baghdad, and tried to arrest several militiamen from the Mehdi Army, the feared Shi’ite militia of anti-US cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

Helicopters were called in to support the US troops.

At least 25 people were wounded in the fighting, including a number of civilians, a hospital source said. Six militiamen were arrested.

Reuters pictures showed fighters dressed in black, traditionally the uniform of Mehdi Army fighters, and brandishing AK-47 assault rifles as they stood in the back of a truck beside coffins being taken for burial.

Other pictures showed coffins being held aloft by civilians and Mehdi Army fighters, and a teenage boy lying wounded on a mattress. Walls in several streets were pockmarked by bullet holes, and several cars had shattered windscreens.

There was no immediate response from the US military, which generally stays out of Karbala, home to one of the holiest Shi’ite shrines in Iraq.

It is one of Iraq’s best protected cities because of its holy status, though there have been several large bomb attacks in the city this year.

Insurgents posing as Americans drove into a government compound in Karbala in January, killing one US soldier and kidnapping four others who were later found dead. – Reuters

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