Sunday, April 04, 2004

Iraq Update: Salvadoran soldier killed

First photo: A Salvadorean soldier watches over the Iraqi village of Al Sahla, April 3, 2004, following a firefight with a little known Shi'ite militia the previous night. Picture taken April 3 REUTERS/Ali Jasim. Second photo: A wounded man is carried after crowds of protesters, including members of the Mehdi Army marched on a Spanish garrison near Kufa April 4, 2004. Photo by Ali Abu Shish/Reuters.

This just in, although the Salvadoran Ministry of Defense says only one soldier was killed and 12 wounded:

KUFA, Iraq (Reuters) - Spanish-led troops and Iraqi police fought a three-hour gun battle with Iraqi Shi'ite militiamen near Najaf Sunday, leaving at least 20 people dead and some 200 wounded, witnesses and medical officials said.

The shooting began after protesting militiamen marched on a Spanish-run military base in Kufa, near Najaf, to denounce the arrest of an aide to a radical Shi'ite cleric and last week's closure by U.S. authorities of a militant Baghdad newspaper.

In a statement from Madrid, Spain's Defense Ministry said four soldiers from El Salvador were killed in the fighting and nine wounded. Salvadoran and other soldiers from Spanish-speaking countries are headquartered in Najaf. The statement said Spanish troops also fought in the clashes. Dr. Falah al-Numhna, the director general for health in Najaf, told Reuters 20 people were killed and at least 200 were wounded in the firefight. He said he believed at least two Iraqi police were among the dead. A Reuters correspondent who saw many of the dead said most were wearing the black uniform of the Mehdi Army.

Witnesses said the demonstrators, many of them armed, threw stones at a military vehicle arriving at the base and shortly afterwards Spanish-led troops and Iraqi police at the base opened fire on the crowd from several directions.

Black-clad members of the Mehdi Army, a banned militia loyal to radical anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr returned fire at the heavily defended garrison. Fighting continued for around three hours before dying down....

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