First Published: 2003-10-14

One dead in clashes between Iraqi Shiites in Karbala

Mehdi Army militia's attempt to seize control of Abbas, Hussein mausoleums dislodged by Sistani's supporters.


Middle East Online

By Lamia Radi - KARBALA, Iraq

24 wounded in the armed clahses

One person was killed and 24 wounded in a shootout between moderate and radical Shiite Muslims in the southern Iraqi city of Karbala, a doctor and witnesses said Tuesday.

One man died in hospital of his wounds, while one of the 24 wounded was in a critical condition and was taken to a hospital in Baghdad, 110 kilometers (70 miles) away, said Saleh al-Hasnawi, assistant director of the Karbala hospital.

The violence started when moderate Shiites prevented about 100 members of fundamentalist cleric Moqtada Sadr's Mehdi Army from taking control of holy sites in Karbala.

Shooting occurred during the night and again Tuesday morning, according to a reporter at the scene.

The militiamen had tried to take over the mausoleums of two of the most venerated figures in the Shiite faith, the seventh century imams Abbas and Hussein, the reporter witnessed.

They were pushed back by supporters of the comparatively moderate Sheikh Ali Sistani, a leading member of the Hawza, Iraq's highest Shiite authority.

The Mehdi Army members later regrouped in a mosque controlled by Sadr followers, where they were surrounded by the rival group and Iraqi police.

Polish and Bulgarian troops of the US-led coalition who patrol the town did not intervene in the incidents.

But a relative of one of the men wounded in the clashes yelled out as he entered the hospital: "It's the Americans who are trying to stir trouble among the Iraqi people, among the Shiites."

Sadr supporters, meanwhile, claimed that on Monday they detained a man who tried to smuggle an explosive device into the mosque where Sadr has his headquarters in Kufah, outside the holy Shiite city of Najaf, 180 kilometers (110 miles) south of Baghdad.

The previous day, an explosive device was found at a gas station near the mosque, Sadr spokesman Sheikh Fuad al-Turfi and a mosque guard said.

"We have confirmed information from people we detained that there are explosive devices around the Kufah mosque. We are searching for these devices," said Turfi.

A few hours after the shootout, Sadr addressed a news conference in Najaf during which he demanded that US troops schedule their pullout from Iraq, while stressing he was not seeking armed confrontation with the occupation forces.

"I send to these occupation forces an advice to first schedule their withdrawal for a prompt exit from Iraq," Sadr said.

"There is absolutely no cooperation between the Mehdi Army and the occupation; there is no confrontation either, neither negatively nor positively," he said.

But Sadr stepped up his challenge to the US-backed interim Iraqi Governing Council, saying a rival government he recently announced included a defense ministry created "at the formation of the Mehdi Army."

On Thursday, two US soldiers and two Iraqis were killed in a shootout in Baghdad's Shiite Sadr City neighborhood following a parade by heavily armed members of the Mehdi Army.


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