Scores killed in Iraq offensive

At least 75 people were killed in Kut after heavy US shelling overnight in the al-Sharkiya district. According to local authorities, another 44 were killed in Baghdad and at least 25 in the holy city of Najaf.

Militant Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army has been locked in bitter fighting for over a week in Najaf, west of Kut, where a major US offensive backed by Iraqi security forces began last Thursday.

The shelling of Kut came one day after clashes between police and militiamen in the southern city.

The devastation in al-Sharkiya, Kut’s densely populated Shiite district, was evident by sunrise, when men, women and children were confronted with the destruction of their homes, while others mourned the loss of relatives

“We were sleeping when there was loud noise of planes above us and suddenly there were explosions,” said local resident Ibrahim Sultan. “The explosion damaged my house and killed my son.”

Many of the dead and wounded were women and children, said Kut hospital director Khader Fadal Arar.

“We never expected to see so many bodies. Our hospital beds are full and many wounded are still lying in the corridor,” said Arar.

In Najaf, US marines spearheaded a massive two-pronged assault to crush Shiite militiamen as massive explosions, tank fire and machine-gun fire boomed through the holy city.

Plumes of smoke rose from Najaf’s historic centre, home to the Imam Ali shrine, where Sadr loyalists have been holed up in Najaf’s vast cemetery.

US troops and Iraqi security forces sealed off all main entrances to the mausoleum, as residents were urged on loudspeakers to leave the old city.

Sadr has pressed his loyalists to fight to the end, regardless of whether he was killed or captured.

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