Wednesday, August 29, 2007

One Million Told to Leave Iraqi City As Gunfights Rage

Baghdad - More than one million pilgrims were ordered to leave the Shiite holy city of Karbala on Tuesday as the police imposed a curfew after two days of violence that included raging gun battles between what appeared to be rival Shiite militias.

At least 35 people have been killed during a religious festival there, with nearly 200 wounded, security officials said. The government sent reinforcements from Baghdad to quell growing unrest and help clear Karbala.

Security officials said gunmen from the Mahdi militia, which is nominally loyal to the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, had attacked guards around the two Karbala shrines that were under the protection of the Badr Brigade, the armed wing of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, a major Shiite party.

In telephone calls to reporters in Karbala, gunfire and exploding mortar shells could be heard.

The security officials, who requested anonymity for security reasons, said at least 180 people had been wounded, including women and children.

A spokesman for the Interior Ministry, Major General Abdul-Karim Khalaf, said "entrances and exits to Karbala have been secured and more forces are on the way from other provinces," including Baghdad. The other officials said buses had been dispatched to Karbala to take pilgrims out of the city......

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