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Last Updated: Friday, 17 October, 2003, 19:00 GMT 20:00 UK
US combat deaths pass 100
US soldiers south of Baghdad
There has been no response to US calls for more countries to send troops
Another four US soldiers have been killed in Iraq - bringing to more than 100 the number of US personnel who have died in attacks since major hostilities ended.

In one incident on Thursday night, three US military police officers and at least two Iraqi police officers were killed when they clashed with supporters of a Shia cleric in the holy Iraqi city of Karbala, the US military says.

A number of the attackers were also killed in the gun battle. Seven Americans and five Iraqis were injured.

In the capital Baghdad, a military police officer - died on Friday in a roadside bomb attack, marking the 101st death since the end of hostilities was declared on 1 May.

The violence came hours after the United States won unanimous backing at the United Nations Security Council for its plans for reconstruction in Iraq.

The US hopes the UN resolution will pave the way for more multi-national troops to go to Iraq to help stabilise and rebuild the country.

Those Jews [non-believers] wanted us out of the way so they could kill our master
Malik Kazim
Supporter of Shia cleric, Mahmoud al-Hassani
In Washington, the US House of Representatives has voted to approve President George W Bush's request for $87bn in new spending for military operations and reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Senate, which on Thursday defied Mr Bush by voting to convert half of a $20bn aid package to rebuild Iraq into a loan, is due to vote later on Friday.

If, as expected, the vote goes through, the two houses would have to reconcile the bills and come up with a final measure, which President Bush wants before the donors' conference on 23 October.

Shia rivalry

In Karbala, 85 kilometres (50 miles) south of Baghdad, there have been a number of clashes in recent weeks between rival Shia Muslim factions.

Coalition spokesman Lieutenant Colonel George Krivo told reporters that the clashes began when a joint coalition and Iraqi patrol came under fire as they were investigating reports of armed men congregating near the al-Abbas mosque in Karbala after curfew.

Colonel Krivo said the coalition believed that bodyguards of a senior Shia cleric, Mahmoud al-Hassani, were involved.

"We don't know whether he was personally involved or not. We're aware he has made anti-coalition statements in the past. The entire event is under investigation."

But a gunman quoted by the Associated Press news agency said he had taken part in the battle lasting about half an hour.

"Those Jews [non-believers] wanted us out of the way so they could kill our master," Malik Kazim said.

Gunfire broke out again in the Karbala area on Friday, close to al-Abbas mosque.

The US-led coalition had imposed the curfew in Karbala earlier in the week following clashes between rival Shia groups.

Brief respite during the latest confrontation in Karbala
Religious fanatics are being blamed for the Karabala tensions

In other developments:

  • Spanish and Iraqi investigators question suspects have been arrested over the recent killing of Spanish military attache Jose Antonio Bernal in Baghdad, Spanish media report.

  • About 3,000 supporters of anti-coalition cleric Muqtada al-Sadr demonstrated peacefully at a Baghdad shrine against the US and the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council.

  • One Humvee in an American convoy was damaged, and a soldier was reportedly wounded in an explosion near the central city of Falluja, witnesses reported.

  • US soldiers clashed late on Thursday with Iraqi fighters in the northern oil town of Kirkuk, AP news agency reported. Iraqi attackers fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a US compound in an apparent assassination attempt against an Iraqi politician working with the coalition, US and Iraqi officials said.

The BBC's Caroline Hawley
"The Americans say they were attacked with rocket propelled grenades and gunfire"


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