Under Fire in Najaf

NPR's Eric Westervelt Reports on the Fight for Key Iraqi City

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Najaf is a key city on the road to Baghdad. U.S. troops came under attack from an estimated 1,500 Iraqis, and responded by firing missiles toward suspected enemy strongholds in the city. Erik Dunham, NPR Online hide caption

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Eric Westervelt in Qatar

Eric Westervelt files a report from the hood of a Humvee in the Kuwaiti desert. He was covering military war exercises in the weeks leading up to the invasion of Iraq. U.S. Army for NPR News hide caption

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There was more fierce fighting today around the central Iraqi city of An Najaf, about 100 miles south of the capital of Baghdad.

U.S. forces with the Army's 3rd Infantry Division have all but surrounded the city, and are slowly eliminating the Iraqi military and paramilitary resistance there.

But U.S. troops continue to face strong opposition from light militiamen and Ba'ath party fighters loyal to Saddam Hussein.

NPR's Eric Westervelt reports from an Army encampment where a battalion engaged in fierce firefights with some of the estimated 1,500 armed Iraqis fighting from An Najaf.

Although the much stronger American forces beat back the attackers, the attacks can be brutal. U.S. troops have fought back with rockets, fired toward the city of An Najaf or at Iraqi forces beyond the city. Other reports include attacks on the city by artillery batteries.

The Associated Press reports that a huge cloud of smoke hung over the city, site of a revered Shi'ite shrine. The smoke appeared to have been caused by a fire at an oil-fired power station. U.S. intelligence sources told the Associated Press that a U.S. air strike may have hit an ammunition dump.

There were no immediate reports of casualties in the fighting between the Iraqis and U.S. troops. The 3rd Infantry Division plans has been advancing north along the west bank of the Euphrates River towards Baghdad.

Iraqi officials said U.S. cluster bombs last night killed 26 civilians in Najaf and wounded 60.



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