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Polish, Bulgarian Army Attacked in Karbala

April 8, 2004

WARSAW, Poland (AP) _ Polish and Bulgarian soldiers drove off Shiite Muslims who attacked them near the municipal hall in the Iraqi city of Karbala during all-night battles, a Polish spokesman said Thursday.

Coalition forces suffered no casualties but killed nine attackers and wounded an estimated 20 others, Lt. Col. Robert Strzelecki in a telephone interview from Iraq.

The attacks began about 11 p.m. Wednesday and continued until nearly sunrise, Strzelecki said. The attackers, loyal to hardline cleric Muqtada al-Sadr used machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and small arms during fighting which the spokesman described as heavy.

Al-Sadr’s forces rose up in Shiite communities of central and southern Iraq last weekend after coalition and Iraqi officials charged one of his aides with the murder last year of a rival cleric in the holy city of Najaf.

Strzelecki estimated there were 500 to 600 al-Sadr supporters in Karbala and that a ``substantial″ number of them took part in the attack on the city hall.

The Shiite uprising comes as thousands of pilgrims are flocking to Shiite shrines for religious ceremonies this weekend marking al-Arbaeen, which ends the mourning period for a Shiite saint martyred in the 7th century.

Strzelecki said that some 5 million people are expected and stressed that they would be protected.

``We are taking great efforts to make sure that this holiday goes smoothly,″ he said.

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