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Military Cannot Confirm Radical Cleric Wounded in Najaf

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 13, 2004 – The multinational force in Iraq cannot confirm reports that radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr had been wounded during a week of intense fighting in Najaf, a spokesman said today in a written statement.

Media reports today said Sadr had been hit by shrapnel and was holed up in one of the city's mosques. Other reports said the leader had been moved to an undisclosed location. But in his statement, Army Brig. Gen. Erv Lessel, deputy operations director for Multinational Force Iraq, said he could not verify that Sadr had been wounded.

Lessel did say, however, that Iraqi and U.S. troops have isolated Sadr's militia and restored control of the city to its citizens.

"Multinational forces are operating under firm instructions not to pursue Muqtada and not to conduct operations within the exclusion zone surrounding the Imam Ali and Kufa mosques," Lessel's statement said.

Though the militia continues to use religious shrines as protective shields and bases of operations, the statement said, multinational forces "have not participated in actions at or near the Imam Ali and Kufa mosques." The general's statement emphasized that Iraqi and multinational security forces are strictly complying with guidance from Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi to safeguard the shrines as well as to "protect the citizens and future of Iraq."

In a separate news release, citing "unconfirmed reports" that a British journalist had been kidnapped in Najaf, military officials said no one among the 23 international journalists officially embedded with multinational forces has been reported missing. The release emphasized that journalists placed with military units have a greater measure of security than those getting around on their own.

Another release today from the military command in Iraq said Army Spc. Megan Ambuhl was arraigned Aug. 11 in Baghdad on charges related to prisoner abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison. Her attorney deferred entering a plea or a choice as to whether Ambuhl would be tried by a jury or solely by a judge or panel of judges.

In Tikrit, Iraqi police detained one suspect after a small-arms engagement and grenade attack near Buhritz Aug. 12, another military news release said today. Iraqi policy initially cordoned off the area around a suspicious vehicle with four occupants. As they approached the vehicle, they were met with small-arms fire. The suspects fled in the vehicle, but were stopped again, and tried to flee on foot.

In the ensuing engagement, two suspects were wounded. Another suspect detonated a grenade, injuring himself and four Iraqi police. That injured suspect was taken to a military treatment facility and was in stable condition, the release said. The injured police officers were taken to a local civilian hospital for treatment.

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