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Air attacks on Najaf

A U.S. AC-130 gunship unleashed a series of fierce air attacks on positions held by Shi'ite rebels in Najaf early on Monday, Reuters witnesses said. The attacks sent white flashes skywards on the northern edge of an area housing a sacred shrine where militants are holed up. Dozens of cannon rounds were fired as the plane continued circling over Najaf. The aircraft armed with a chain machinegun, howitzer and a cannon went into action after U.S. tanks earlier advanced within 800 meters of the Imam Ali shrine that is sacred to millions of Shi'ite Muslims around the world, inroms Reuter. According to CSMONITIR, with the fighting here moving into the 12th day, Iraqi police in Najaf find themselves caught in the cross hairs of a deadly insurgency. The war has become very personal. Last month, gunmen presumed to be with the Mahdi Army kidnapped the 80-year-old father, elderly uncle, and nephew of the police chief, Ghalib al-Jezari, and demanded that the chief quit his job. The chief refused, and the kidnappers promptly dropped the decapitated body of the nephew in front of the chief's house. (The father has since been released, after a heart attack). In Najaf, the thin blue line has never been blurrier. Attacked by the Mahdi Army for cooperating with the Americans, suspected by the Americans of having insurgent sympathies, lionized by the Iraqi government for holding the line against insurgents, and criticized by journalists for abusing human rights and press freedoms, the Najaf police have a siege complex that mirrors the Mahdi Army. It's yet another sign of how difficult it is for the 55-day-old Iraqi interim government to establish its authority in a far-flung country where most of the territory is outside Baghdad's control. Sunday, fighting resumed as talks to end the Shiite uprising led by radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr appeared to have stalled over how to surrender control of the Imam Ali shrine. Last Thursday afternoon, Mahdi Army fighters fired three mortars at the Najaf police headquarters, striking a room full of police officers. Eight were killed, 26 were injured. It was the single deadliest incident since the violence began in April, in which 12 police have been kidnapped and 20 others killed. Armed struggle between the Mahdi Army and the police was perhaps inevitable. The latest standoff in Najaf began just after midnight on Aug. 12, when Mahdi Army fighters attacked and nearly overran the police station, a crucial symbol of government control. Police insist they are merely an instrument for maintaining law and order, but increasingly they find themselves involved in a complex political battle as the government tries to assert its legitimacy and authority in the Shiite majority south. It's a situation that makes every policeman a marked man. The Indian Express publishes that US helicopter gunships pounded Shi’ite militias in the holy Iraqi city of Najaf on Sunday as tanks rumbled to within 800 metres of a holy shrine at the centre of a near three-week insurgency. With talks aimed at ending the siege of the Imam Ali mosque stalled, US forces appeared to have tightened their noose around the old city, a stronghold of rebels loyal to radical Shi’ite Muslim cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr. Near Najaf, clashes between US troops and militias on Saturday killed 40 people in the town of Kufa, a Shi’ite bastion from where Sadr has led Friday prayers. Interior Ministry officials said the dead were militias and civilians. Rounds of heavy-calibre fire from armoured vehicles rattled across the labyrinth of narrow streets that lead to the gold-domed mosque in Najaf, where Mehdi militias remain holed up in defiance of a government demand they disband and leave. An Indonesian worker and two Iraqis were killed during an ambush in northern Iraqi city of Mosul on Sunday in an attack which also wounded a Filipino.

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