Militant cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose Shiite militia has been battling U.S. forces across Iraq, warned Monday that he would fight "until the last drop of my blood has been spilled," in his first appearance since the violence began.
The five-day-old uprising by al-Sadr's Mahdi Army began to affect Iraq's crucial oil industry, as pumping to the southern port of Basra — the country's main export outlet — was halted because of militant threats to infrastructure, an official with the South Oil Company said.
About 1.8 million barrels per day, or 90 percent of Iraq's exports, move through Basra, and any shutdown in the flow of Iraq's main money earner would badly hamper reconstruction efforts. Iraq's other export line — from the north to Turkey — is already out of operation.
Clashes intensified Basra, where a British soldier was killed and several others wounded in fighting with militia near the cleric's office Monday, the British Ministry of Defense said. Three militants were killed and more than 10 others wounded, a senior Iraqi police official said.
In the holy city of Najaf, the main scene of fighting, U.S. forces tried once more to drive militiamen out of a sprawling cemetery, and an American tank rattled up to within 400 yards of the Imam Ali Shrine, Najaf's holiest site, which fighters have reportedly been using as a base.
Still U.S. commanders say a sign that locals are starting to turn against the militia, is they no longer risk their lives to drag dead fighters into their homes, reports CBS News Correspondent Kimberly Dozier.
A military officer said, "When the sun came up this morning, there were still bodies laying in the streets. We've never seen that happen before."
Commanders believe it may be because the residents enjoyed the previous two months of calm, and appreciated the sweeping repairs on their streets, carried out by coalition forces.
Al-Sadr's vow to keep fighting was a defiant challenge to Allawi, who visited Najaf on Sunday and called on the Shiite militants to stop fighting.
"I will continue fighting," the young, firebrand cleric told reporters in Najaf. "I will remain in Najaf city until the last drop of my blood has been spilled."
"Resistance will continue and increase day by day," he said. "Our demand is for the American occupation to get out of Iraq. We want an independent, democratic, free country."
In other developments:
U.S. and Iraqi forces have been trying to rein in al-Sadr to prevent the current violence from expanding on the scale of a widespread revolt his militia launched in April, fighting for two months until a series of truces brought a relative calm.
At the same time, violence in the insurgency-plagued Sunni regions of Iraq continued. A suicide attacker detonated a station wagon packed with explosives Monday outside the home of Diyala province's deputy governor, Aqil Hamid al-Adili, killing six policemen guarding his home.
Al-Adili was wounded and taken to a military medical facility after the blast in Balad Ruz, 40 miles northeast of Baghdad. The explosion shattered windows and blew doors off their hinges on the house, wounding a total 17 people — including al-Adili's 9-year-old son, Police Brig. Daoud Mahmoud said.
It was the latest in a campaign of insurgent attacks targeting officials in Iraq's new government — seen as cooperating with Americans.
Also Monday, a roadside bomb blew up next to a bus on a main street in the town of Khalidiyah, 70 miles west of Baghdad, killing four passengers and wounding four others, officials said.
The military reported Monday that a U.S. Marine was killed in action Sunday in Anbar province, a center of Sunni insurgent violence. The death brought to at least 927 the number of American servicemembers who have died in Iraq.
In a sign of the deterioration of the situation in Najaf, the Polish military returned command in Najaf province and neighboring Qadisiyah province to the U.S. Marines. The Poles, who are leading a force that is supposed to keep up security duties across south-central Iraq, had received command in the two provinces only 10 days ago.
The Shiite violence began Thursday in Najaf after the truces reached in June collapsed. During the two-month uprising in April, U.S. commanders vowed to "capture or kill" al-Sadr, but later tacitly agreed to let Iraqi authorities deal with the cleric.
Even amid the fighting, troops appeared to still be keeping a hands-off policy with al-Sadr himself. The senior U.S. officer said al-Sadr "is not an objective; we are not actively pursuing him."