IRAQ Cleric vows fight; car bomb kills 7
A U.S. Marine was killed in action Sunday.
NAJAF, Iraq (AP) -- A radical cleric whose loyalists battled U.S. troops for the fifth straight day vowed today to fight "until the last drop of my blood has been spilled," and a suicide attacker detonated a car bomb northeast of the capital, killing seven people and wounding the deputy governor who was the intended target, officials said.
The car bombing was only the latest violence to target officials working with the interim government.
Explosions and gunfire were heard throughout Najaf and U.S. helicopters hovered overhead in renewed fighting between U.S. forces and Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia. A Najaf hospital spokesman said three were killed, including two policemen. Nineteen were wounded.
The U.S. military says hundreds of militants have been killed in the violence in recent days; the militiamen put the number far lower.
Vow to fight
At a news conference today, al-Sadr vowed to keep up the battle.
"I will continue fighting," al-Sadr told reporters. "I will remain in Najaf city until the last drop of my blood has been spilled."
Government officials have said many of those involved in the Najaf violence were criminals and implied they were not true followers of the popular Shiite firebrand. But al-Sadr said the militants were his followers and described them as volunteers fighting for an honorable cause.
"These are honest attacks against the occupation," he said, referring to the U.S. troop presence in the country. "They ... are coming to resist the occupation, to liberate our country."
"Resistance will continue and increase day by day," he said. "Our demand is for the American occupation to get out of Iraq. We want an independent, democratic, free country."
Al-Sadr's words were a defiant challenge to the interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, who visited the war-shattered city Sunday under heavy security and called on the Shiite militants to stop fighting. The Mahdi Army militia controls the Imam Ali Shrine compound, one of the most revered sites in Shiite Islam.
Also today, the military reported that a U.S. Marine was killed in action Sunday in the western Iraqi province of Anbar. Anbar is a Sunni Muslim-dominated area of anti-U.S. resistance that includes Fallujah, Ramadi and Qaim on the Syrian border.
The Marine was assigned to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, but was not further identified, the military said in a statement.
The government reinstated the death penalty Sunday in its latest effort to beat down the 15-month-old insurgency -- marked by car bombings, sabotage, gunbattles and kidnappings -- that has destabilized the country and held back reconstruction efforts.
The Shiite violence began Thursday in Najaf after the collapse of a series of truces that ended a two-month uprising in early June. A deadline for militants to withdraw from Najaf, the center of the worst violence, expired Saturday.
The U.S. military said it had renewed an offensive Sunday against Mahdi Army militants who were using the city's massive cemetery as an operations base and weapons depot. Witnesses said the military attacked the cemetery with helicopter gunships. Military spokesmen said they were taking care to minimize damage.
In the car bombing, the deputy governor of Diyala province, Aqil Hamid al-Adili, was in stable condition and was being treated at a U.S.-led coalition medical facility, military spokesman Maj. Neal O'Brien said.
Meanwhile, Iran confirmed today that Faridoun Jihani, the Iranian consul to the Iraqi city of Karbala, had been kidnapped, and said he was in good health.
In Egypt, militants who said they belong to a group that has claimed responsibility for kidnappings and killings in Iraq beheaded a man identified only as a Bulgarian in a video posted on the Internet today.
It was not clear when the video was made and its authenticity could not immediately be verified. Bulgarian officials said today they had examined the video but were "unable to identify the executed man because of the material's bad quality."
The militants in the video said they were from the Tawhid and Jihad group, which had claimed to have kidnapped two Bulgarian truck drivers June 29 and demanded Iraqi detainees be released in exchange for their lives.