Two dead, 9 wounded as blast rocks revered Iraqi Shia mosque
* Mehdi Army militia will not leave Najaf shrine until democracy
KUFA: Two Iraqis were killed and at least nine were wounded on Monday in a mystery explosion inside Kufa’s Great Mosque compound, a stronghold of Shiite radical cleric Moqtada Sadr and his Mehdi Army militia.
A Sadr aide blamed the blast on an electrical short that ignited chemical materials stockpiled there for renovations, although witnesses said a rocket hit a weapons cache used by militiamen.
It exploded and caught fire, triggering multiple explosions, they said.
“At 11:00am (0700 GMT) this morning, there was a big explosion in the holy mosque of Kufa. The explosion was huge and the flames of smoke rose above the walls,” said Sadr official Sheikh Ahmed Shaibani.
“An investigative committee concluded the explosion was caused by an electrical short inside the main mosque where chemical materials used for reconstruction were being stored,” the sheikh said.
The US military confirmed an explosion had taken place and that part of the mosque caught fire. Meanwhile, the sheikh also vowed on Monday that the Mehdi Army would not withdraw from the most sacred shrine in the holy city of Najaf until a democratic Iraqi government takes power in January 2005.
“If America promises to handover sovereignty and Iraqis start to get what they need, the Mehdi Army will recognise the legitimate government,” he added.
Separately, 17 civilians were wounded in clashes on Monday between US soldiers and gunmen in a western district of Mosul in northern Iraq, police and hospital sources said. Lt Khorsched Khaled said the soldiers had just defused a bomb and were preparing to pull out when they came under fire from a group of gunmen. The civilians were caught in the gunbattle.
Seventeen people, including two women, were hospitalised, said Dr Wael Shaluwi of Mosul general hospital.
A US soldier was killed and two were wounded on Monday in a roadside bomb attack on their convoy south of Baghdad, a US military spokeswoman said.
US soldiers opened fire on suspects fleeing the scene, wounding them, the spokeswoman said.
Another US soldier in Iraq died of non-combat causes, military medics said on Monday in a statement.
“The soldier collapsed and stopped breathing around 11:00am (0700 GMT on Sunday) while performing guard duty,” the statement said, adding that he was taken to hospital where he was later pronounced dead. A commander of the former Badr Brigades, the armed wing of the Supreme Assembly for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SAIRI), was shot dead on Monday in Baghdad, a SAIRI spokesman here said.
Unidentified assailants gunned down Gen Shaher Faisal al-Shaher at a Baghdad crossroads, Mohsen Hakim said. agencies