Fighting raged in the Shiite holy city of Kufa early today, killing two US soldiers and further eroding a deal to halt clashes with followers of a radical Muslim cleric.
A Governing Council meeting to select a new Iraqi president was postponed for a day, ensuring that council members will miss a self-imposed deadline to announce a new government.
Shiite militiamen accused the Americans of firing near the main mosque, damaging its outer marble wall. The bodies of two dead fighters loyal to firebrand leader Motqada al-Sadr lay on the mosque’s blood-soaked floor, covered with blankets.
“They have no respect for holy sites or for human rights,” said one fighter who gave only his first name, Abu Sayf. “This is a violation to the truce. We are committed, but they have no commitment.”
Attackers ambushed a patrol with small arms fire, killing one US soldier, and fired a rocket-propelled grenade on a tank, killing another American. The fighting also killed an Iraqi and injured eight others, hospital officials said.
In a report from Kufa, CNN, which has a reporter embedded with 1st Armoured Division troops there, spoke of a “major firefight” which broke out late yesterday when soldiers tried to secure a police station. CNN quoted soldiers as saying it was the most intense fighting in the area in the past six weeks.
In a separate incident, one Task Force 1st Armoured Division soldier died yesterday and two others were injured when a roadside bomb exploded south of Baghdad, the military reported.
Despite the clashes, Governing Council member Ahmad Chalabi, who travelled to Najaf to help shore up the agreement, told reporters there was a “a momentum for peace” and the fellow Shiite leaders were “working to implement this so we can avoid any clashes”.
Chalabi met with al-Sadr’s aides last night and afterward told reporters he had worked out a “detailed plan for the implementation” of the truce agreement and would present them to US and Iraqi officials today.
A dispute between Iraq’s Governing Council and US occupation authorities over the president of a new transitional government delayed formation of the new Cabinet to take power June 30.
A council member said the US governor of Iraq, Paul Bremer, and special UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi were exerting “massive pressure” on the US-appointed group to choose former Foreign Minister Adnan Pachachi, a Sunni Muslim councilman.
However, the current council chairman, civil engineer Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer, was believed to be the choice of most of the 22 members.
Council members conferred through the night, but opted to postpone a session set for today.