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Forces regain control of Kut.

Byline: Daisy Blanks

US forces regained control of the southern Iraqi city of Kut last night which was seized this week by a rebellious Shi'ite militia, as the first anniversary of the fall of Baghdad was marked by more violence.

Marines tried to work out a temporary ceasefire in their assault on

Fallujah.

The halt was aimed at allowing negotiations with city leaders and the entry of humanitarian aid and to let beleaguered residents deal with their dead after five days of bloody street fighting against Sunni Iraqis.

A stream of cars carrying women and elderly headed out of the city.

One of the strongest proAmerican voices in the USappointed Governing Council, Adnan Pachachi, condemned the operation as 'unacceptable and illegal' -a sign of Iraqi anger at the siege, which for some has become a symbol of resistance.

The marines called a halt to offensive operations at noon. Only 90 minutes later, Lieut Colonel Brennan Byrne, commander of the 1st Battalion 5th Marine Regiment, said he had permission to resume offensive operations.

For hours afterwards, there was sporadic shooting in Fallujah.

Marines remained hunkered down around the city and in an industrial zone just inside, without entering residential neighbourhoods.

In a symbol of the state of Iraq a year after the US invasion, a portrait of Muqtada al-Sadr -the radical Shi'ite cleric whose militia has rebelled across the south -was hung on the statue in Firdous Square in Baghdad, where one year ago yesterday marines toppled a statue of ousted leader Saddam Hussein.

Soldiers imposed a curfew around the square, saying alSadr's militia had threatened to bomb nearby sites and warning that anyone seen carrying weapons would be shot.

The felling of Saddam's statue before a cheering crowd of Iraqis on April 9 was an iconic image of liberation in Iraq.

In the south, US troops fanned out across Kut, driving out members of al-Sadr's al-Mahdi Army militia who seized the city this week. The operation represented a major foray by the American military into the south, where US allies have struggled to deal with the militia's uprising.

The militia still controls the city of Kufa and the central part of Najaf. Al-Sadr demanded US forces leave Iraq, saying they now face 'a civil revolt'.

'I direct my speech to my enemy Bush and I tell him that if your excuse was that you are fighting Saddam, then this thing is a past and now you are fighting the entire Iraqi people,' he said in a Friday prayer sermon, delivered by one of his deputy's in Najaf.

Meanwhile, militants were holding at least six foreign hostages in unknown locations in the country. Japan's Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi vowed not to withdraw 530 troops after kidnappers threatened to burn three Japanese captives alive unless the troops leave the country.

The kidnappings add a new dimension to the fighting. Fears were growing for British civilian worker Gary Teeley, aged 37, who disappeared in Nasiriyah on Monday.

CAPTION(S):

Thousands of Shi'ite Muslims chant Long live Muqtada al-Sadr during traditional Friday prayers at the al-Hikma Mosque in Baghdad
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Apr 10, 2004
Words:515
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