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CENTCOM

NEWS RELEASE
HEADQUARTERS UNITED STATES CENTRAL COMMAND
7115 South Boundary Boulevard
MacDill AFB, Fla. 33621-5101
Phone: (813) 827-5894; FAX: (813) 827-2211; DSN 651-5894

May 13, 2004
Release Number: 04-05-28


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE


1ST ARMORED DIVISION CLEARS MOSQUE OF MILITIA

KARBALA, Iraq - Soldiers from Task Force 1st Armored Division cleared a building complex used by Muqtada's Militia during a cordon and search operation that began last night and continued into this morning.

The operation began at about 11 p.m. Tuesday when elements of Task Force 1-37, 1st Armored Division moved into positions around the 12-building Mukhayam Mosque and shrine complex.

Karbala, a Shiite holy city south of Baghdad, has been the site of several clashes between militiamen loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, and U.S. and other coalition troops over the past few days. The Mukhayam Mosque is located about 500 yards from the Imam Hussein and Imam Abbas shrines, two of Iraq's most revered religious sites located at the city's center. Extreme caution was taken to ensure the holy shrines were not damaged in any way during the fighting.

Muqtada's Militia used the mosque complex to plan attacks against members of the coalition, stage forces and to store weapons and ammunition. Ammunition caches found inside several of the buildings were rigged for demolition.

The coalition task force also included Polish and Bulgarian units, a company from the 402nd Iraqi Civil Defense Corps and Iraqi Police Service officers.

As Soldiers prepared to enter the complex, they received mortar, small arms and rocket-propelled grenade fire from the mosque and from rooftops of surrounding buildings.

During the exchange, a cache of weapons and ammunition in one of the buildings ignited.

At about 2:50 a.m. Soldiers rescued two bound-and-gagged Iraqi police officers from another building. Ammunition found with the policemen, also rigged for demolition, was disarmed.

Militiamen holed up inside the shrine fought the advancing Coalition forces with small arms, rocket-propelled grenades and hand grenades.

Iraqi Civil Defense Corps soldiers and Iraqi police officers made the assault into the mosque while other coalition forces established a cordon around the building. Inside, they found 15 artillery rounds, 15 mortar rounds and small arms ammunition.

About 20 enemy militiamen were killed during the assault. Seven U.S. Soldiers were wounded.

Today, Soldiers have been destroying the weapons and ammunition found during the operation.

Task Force Soldiers and Iraqi security forces remain in the area to secure the site and prevent looting.

According to published reports, signs of mainstream Shiite resentment of al-Sadr have been rising. Tuesday, about 1,000 people marched through Najaf streets demanding that he and his followers leave the city, as moderate Shiite leaders have urged. Tensions rose as the march passed al-Sadr's office. His fighters fired into the air, but there was no clash.


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