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Monday, August 09, 2004

The New York Times > International > Middle East > Insurgency: U.S. Is Tightening Grasp on Rebels Encircled in Iraq

The New York Times > International > Middle East > Insurgency: U.S. Is Tightening Grasp on Rebels Encircled in Iraq: "August 10, 2004
INSURGENCY
U.S. Is Tightening Grasp on Rebels Encircled in Iraq
By ALEX BERENSON and JOHN F. BURNS

NAJAF, Iraq, Aug. 9 - American forces besieging militiamen of a rebel cleric in a shrine and cemetery sacred to Shiite Muslims tightened their cordon on Monday, warning that the rebels had been left no way in or out. But the warnings drew an immediate riposte from the cleric, Moktada al-Sadr, who emerged from days of silence to reject demands for the militiamen to surrender.
'I will defend Najaf until the last drop of my blood,' Mr. Sadr said at a news conference in the Imam Ali shrine, which has served as a stronghold for his Mahdi Army since his uprising in the spring against the foreign occupation of Iraq.
The repercussions of the latest fighting, which began in Najaf last week and quickly spread to other centers of support for Mr. Sadr, intensified when officials of the state-owned oil industry said that Iraq's largest oil fields, in the southern region around Basra, had stopped pumping oil on Monday after Mr. Sadr's militiamen had threatened to attack oil fields, refineries and pipelines. About 1.8 million barrels a day, 90 percent of Iraq's current oil exports, are shipped from terminals in and near Basra.
In Baghdad, American military officials announced a curfew of 4 p.m. to 8 a.m. in the capital's Sadr City neighborhood, home to more than a million Shiites and, with Najaf, Mr. Sadr's greatest stronghold. The measure, the most stringent of its kind in the 16 months since the country fell to the American-led invasion, appeared aimed "

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