Big fight in Najaf as U.S. forces hunt down Muqtada al-Sadr, reports the AP:
U.S. troops backed by helicopter gunships battled with insurgents overnight near the southern holy Shiite city of Najaf, killing 43 gunmen and destroying an anti-aircraft system belonging to the insurgents, the U.S. military in Baghdad said Tuesday.
The fighting began Monday night and lasted several hours, a military spokesman said. It came as around 200 U.S. forces made their first deployment inside Najaf, moving into a base that Spanish troops are vacating about three miles from holy shrines near where…anti-American Shiite Muslim cleric [al-Sadr] is holed up.
Later in the piece comes these details about how Iraqi insurgents may be hiding weapons–and how such tactics will make the U.S. actions there difficult:
In Baghdad, the top American administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, heightened warnings about the reported stockpiling of weapons in "mosques, shrines and schools" in Najaf ? and his spokesman noted that such actions make the sites fair targets for military action.
"The coalition certainly will not tolerate this situation," Bremer said in a statement addressed to residents of Najaf. "The restoration of these holy places to calm places of worship must begin immediately."
Bremer's spokesman, Dan Senor, would not elaborate on steps the coalition was ready to take to do so. He noted that in the case of military action, "those places of worship are not protected under the Geneva Convention" if they are used to store weapons.