Aug. 12, 2004 – One day after Iraqâ€™s US-installed Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said US Marines were not inside the city of Najaf, those same forces launched a major offensive against several sites deep within the city, bombing civilian neighborhoods and seizing key territory near sacred Shiâ€™ite sites.
Speaking to ABC News last night, Allawi said US forces were operating "outside the city." The remarks were made despite numerous television reports and newspaper photographs already available showing US Marines firing their weapons from behind tombs in the sprawling cemetery located near the Imam Ali Shrine in the heart of Najafâ€™s Old City.
Thursdayâ€™s assault was launched early in the morning with thousands of US forces leading the way. Reuters reports that Marines backed by tanks and aircraft seized the center of Najaf by afternoon. Earlier in the day, the Associated Press reported that hundreds of US tanks lined one side of the cemetery, while troops fired weapons from the roofs of nearby buildings. "Major operations to destroy the militia have begun," US Marine Major David Holahan told reporters.
According to Reuters, US forces also bombed a residential neighborhood in Najaf and stormed a house owned by Shiâ€™ite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr, whose Mehdi militia have been engaged in heavy fighting with US and Iraqi troops for a week. Al-Sadr does not appear to have been in the residence at the time.
A health care worker in Najaf told the AP that five civilians had been killed since todayâ€™s offensive began. Medical officials said Wednesday it was becoming virtually impossible to reach wounded civilians due to the actions of "the clashing parties."