Authorities immediately announced a curfew in Najaf and
security forces were deployed to the streets.
Riyadh al-Nouri, the director
of al-Sadr's office in the holy city, was gunned down as he drove home after
attending Friday prayers in the adjacent city of Kufa, a police officer and a local Sadrist
official told the Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
Haider al-Turfi, another al-Sadr aide, told Agence
France-Presse: "When [al-Nouri] arrived from the prayers, they opened fire
on him, killing him instantly."
Al-Sadr spokesman, Salah al-Obeidi, said the United States was responsible for al-Nouri's
death because of its continued presence in Iraq.
In April 2004, U.S. forces detained al-Nouri and
another top al-Sadr lieutenant for the 2003 killing of moderate Shiite cleric
Sheik Abdul-Majid al-Khoei in Najaf shortly after the U.S.-led invasion. An
arrest warrant also was issued for al-Sadr but never served.
That incident, along with U.S.
authorities closing al-Sadr's newspaper, triggered an uprising that engulfed
Shiite areas of central and southern Iraq. Several thousand people were
killed before the rebellion was finally suppressed. The two men were released
Meanwhile, sporadic clashes continued for a sixth day
between Iraqi security forces and militia fighters in the eastern Baghdad Shiite-majority neighborhood of Sadr City
and in oil-rich Basra
-- both Mahdi Army strongholds.
soldiers operating an unmanned drone over Sadr
City fired a Hellfire missile late
Thursday at a group of men carrying rocket-propelled grenade launchers, killing
six, the U.S.
City has been the focus
of intense street battles that have killed nearly 100 people over the past
week, Reuters reported. The area is under a vehicle blockade, due to end
Saturday, that has led to food and medicine shortages.
Sadrists have said they are under siege from Iraqi and U.S.
forces and have threatened to break the general cease-fire al-Sadr ordered last
On Monday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki threatened to
exclude al-Sadr's movement from politics unless he disbands the Mahdi Army.
Iraqi forces have taken the lead in the Sadr City
operation, but nearby U.S.
troops offer pointers on urban warfare, The New York Times reported.
Al-Maliki also has said that American ground forces should
not push into the heart of Sadr
City, one senior American
officer told the Times. American commanders want to limit the U.S. profile in an area that has
long been a bastion of support for al-Sadr.
One Iraqi lieutenant told the Times that some of his
soldiers have received threatening calls on their cell phones from the Mahdi
Army warning them to leave.
The Iraqi forces pushed their way up a main thoroughfare in Sadr City
over the past week, but militias have sniped at them from alleyways -- even
signaling the presence of troops with trained pigeons.
"Iraqi soldiers, suffering from a shortage of
experienced noncommissioned officers, have often been firing wildly, expending
vast quantities of ammunition to try to silence militias that are equipped with
AK-47s, mortars and rockets," Michael R. Gordon wrote in the Times. "But
pulling back from their positions earlier, they now appear to be holding their
ground -- albeit with considerable American support."