Battle Rages in Baghdad, Coalition Airstrikes Continue
Violent conflict continues in Iraq: a landmark hotel in Baghdad was hit by a mortar attack earlier Friday, US and coalition forces continue to conduct airstrikes on 'insurgent targets' in Baghdad and Basra, and heavy fighting has been reported in the Baghdad neighbourhood of Sadr City.
UPDATED | 16:31 PST
Iraqi tanks, with U.S. air support, are "attacking Sadr City," the office of Muqtada al-Sadr said Friday, just hours after the Shiite cleric called for calm in the wake of the assassination of one of his top aides in the southern city of Najaf.
Eyewitnesses and media in the heavily Shiite Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City, home to the cleric's power base in the capital, reported heavy fighting between U.S.-backed Iraqi troops and al-Sadr's Mehdi Army militia.
The witnesses said U.S. aircraft had been bombarding the area for hours, and media reported rockets slamming into houses and many casualties.
Witnesses and al-Sadr's office said mosques were making loudspeaker announcements about Mehdi Army attacks on U.S. military armored vehicles.
The U.S. military said only that it is "looking into these reports."
Earlier, al-Sadr issued remarks about the killing of Sayyed Riyadh al-Nuri, who was shot outside his house in Najaf's Adala neighborhood after returning from Friday prayers.
"The hands of the occupiers and their collaborators have treacherously reached our beloved martyr Sayyed Riyadh al-Nuri," al-Sadr wrote in a statement on the Web.
At least three people were killed and five were wounded Friday in a mortar attack on Baghdad's Palestine Hotel, an Interior Ministry official said.
The Palestine Hotel is across the Tigris River from the Green Zone, the seat of U.S. power in Baghdad.
The U.S. military has blamed mortar and rocket attacks in Baghdad and the Green Zone recently on Iranian-backed Shiite militants. The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad said there were no attacks Friday on the district, formally called the International Zone.
In October 2005, three car bombs, including a concrete truck loaded with tons of explosives, targeted the central Baghdad landmark hotel. Al Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility for the attack.
Before that strike, the Palestine and the nearby Sheraton housed Western journalists and private companies.
Meanwhile, coalition airstrikes in Baghdad and Basra targeting insurgents over the last 24 hours killed 12 people, U.S. and British officials said, and a top aide to Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr was assassinated in Najaf.