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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 May, 2004, 22:49 GMT 23:49 UK
US troops take key Najaf building
US tank at Najaf
America has deployed heavy armour around the city
US tanks have surged into the Iraqi holy city of Najaf to take control of the governor's office amid fierce fighting with Shia gunmen.

Troops moved into the city's suburbs to draw out militiamen loyal to cleric Moqtada Sadr and allow the armour to sweep in largely unopposed.

The US military reported killing 41 militiamen in Kufa, just outside Najaf.

The coalition has appointed a new governor for the city where Mr Sadr has been resisting for more than a month.

Heavy gunfire soon erupted around the governor's office after the Americans moved in.

Shia militiaman

"We're getting contact on all sides but we're dealing with it," US Army Lt-Col Pat White told CNN outside the office as tank-mounted machine guns returned fire, adding that his troops were now "on their turf".

The office is 5km (three miles) from Najaf's holy sites, some of the most sacred for Shia Muslims worldwide.

A member of Mr Sadr's Mehdi Army (MA) militia, Dhia Shami, told AP news agency he and his comrades would fight "until the last drop" of their blood for their faith.

Doctors in the city said on Thursday that two women and a child had been killed and nine people wounded.

In other developments:

  • An attack on US and Polish troops in the Shia holy city of Karbala leaves one MA gunman dead and nine people wounded, Iraqi doctors say

  • US troops clash with the MA in Baghdad's Sadr City district, killing 10 gunmen

  • MA gunmen exchange fire with Italian troops in the southern town of Nasiriya

  • A suicide bomber kills five Iraqis and a US soldier outside an entrance to the main coalition headquarters in Baghdad

New man

Najaf's new governor, Adnan al-Zorfi, fought in the 1991 Shia uprising against Saddam Hussein and spent time in his prisons.

He denounced Mr Sadr and called on the MA to disarm, telling a news conference in Baghdad that Najaf had virtually died as a city.

Helicopter gunships have backed up the US operations in the city but the Pentagon has said its troops will refrain from entering the shrines.

"You could say we had an operation on the outskirts of Rome, but we didn't get anywhere near the Vatican," an unnamed official told Reuters news agency on Thursday.

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