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Clashes continue in Basra

BAGHDAD, MAY 9. U.S. and British troops clashed on Sunday with forces of the radical Shia cleric Moqtada Al Sadr, for a second day, and four Iraqis were killed in an explosion in a Baghdad market.

Three British soldiers were wounded in a blast in Basra.

Mr. Al Sadr's militia fired mortar shells before dawn on Sunday at the Governor's office and other British positions in Amarah, 290 km southeast of Baghdad, a British official and residents said.

No British casualties were reported in that attack, but British spokesman Maj. Ian Clooney said ``a number of possible mortar positions'' were destroyed.

Maj. Clooney denied statements by local residents that British helicopters were used to attack the insurgents.

The militia launched attacks on Saturday in Basra and Amarah in an apparent attempt to open up new fronts as American troops stepped up pressure on the cleric's stronghold around the Shia holy cities of Najaf, Kufa and Karbala.

Intensifying skirmishes in the region have killed dozens in the past week.

U.S. authorities vowed to kill or capture Mr. Al Sadr after he was charged in the murder of a rival cleric last year.

The U.S.-led coalition would like to disband his militia, the Mahdi army, before political power is transferred to a new Iraqi government on June 30.

Also on Sunday, scattered clashes occurred between U.S. and militia forces in the industrial area of Najaf, where Mr. Al Sadr sought refuge last month.

Plumes of black smoke could be seen rising from the area. Iraqi police and U.S. tanks blocked the main road from Najaf to nearby Kufa, residents said.

In Baghdad's Shia enclave Sadr City, the cleric's militia burned tires in the streets to try to keep American troops from entering the area.

Residents of Amarah said a British helicopter fired on houses in the city's Sadeq district, killing four civilians and destroying several houses. British officials denied that helicopters were used in the operation.

In Basra, 160 kilometers (100 miles) south of Amarah, three coalition soldiers were wounded when a large explosion occurred near a coalition convoy Sunday morning, Maj. Clooney said. Witnesses said the wounded soldiers were British.

The explosion in Baghdad occurred in a market in the Biyaa district in the west of the city when police tried to dismantle two bombs found in vendors' stalls, witnesses said.

AP

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