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Najaf Cemetery No Enemy Sanctuary, Marine Commander Says

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 10, 2004 – Enemy forces using a Najaf cemetery as a base of operations violated an agreement that had made those grounds off limits for military operations.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Weapons from numerous caches in the Wadi Al Salam cemetery, neighboring the Imam Ali Shrine, were found Aug. 7. While international laws of armed conflict normally identify cemeteries as protected places, that status is forfeited if the site is used for military purposes. Attacks launched by militia loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, as well as the storage of weapons caches in the holy site, make the cemetery a legitimate military objective. Marine Corps photo

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Insurgents in Najaf have been found to be operating from and storing arms at the Wadi Al Salam cemetery, which is adjacent to the holy Imam Ali Shrine, according to a Multinational Force Iraq news release today.

"We will not allow them to continue to desecrate this sacred site, using it as an insurgent base of operations," said Col. Anthony M. Haslam, commander of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit. The cemetery "will be no sanctuary for thugs and criminals in Najaf," he declared.

U.S. Marines, soldiers, and Iraqi National Guardsmen are fighting insurgent forces in Najaf. According to the release, the Marines recently have captured numerous enemy weapons caches found in the cemetery's catacombs and mausoleums.

Insurgent use of the cemetery and surrounding mosques and buildings to store weapons and conduct military operations violates the international rules of warfare, the release noted, and breaks a cease-fire agreement made in June between Iraqi militant cleric Muqtada al Sadr and Najaf civic officials.

Recent enemy actions make the cemetery in Najaf a legitimate military objective, which now is being assaulted by multinational troops on the grounds of necessity and self-defense, the release stated.

Besides storing weapons, insurgents had also been using the cemetery to launch attacks against Iraqi security forces and to torture kidnap victims.

In other news from Iraq, U.S. 1st Infantry Division soldiers captured a suspected anti-Iraqi leader and two other people during raids made near Bayji late Aug. 9.

The soldiers, according to a news release, were attacked by enemy small-arms fire. The Americans returned fire, killing one insurgent. The captured enemy troops were taken to a detention facility for questioning. No 1st Division troops were injured in the incident.

Three U.S. service members who'd been wounded during Aug. 7 fighting with insurgents northwest of the Iraqi city of Mosul received Purple Hearts Aug. 8. Award recipients include Army Maj. Thomas B. Case, Marine Corps Capt. Aaron P. Hill, and Marine Corps Staff Sgt. William Rosborough.

The three troops were wounded during an insurgent attack on their base that involved enemy rocket and mortar fire. Army Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, commanding general of the Office of Security Transition/Multinational Security Transition Command, presented the awards.

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