KUFA, Iraq – The U.S.-appointed governor of Najaf accused radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr (search) on Saturday of failing to honor a deal to end fighting as U.S. soldiers clashed with Shiite gunmen. Three Marines were killed Saturday in separate fighting west of Baghdad, pushing the number of U.S. deaths to more than 800.
Al-Sadr's fighters said they killed one Iraqi policeman and captured another during an exchange of fire in Kufa. Three Iraqis were injured in clashes, hospital officials said. There were no reports of any U.S. casualties.
Gov. Adnan al-Zurufi (search) complained al-Sadr had done little to stop his fighters from brandishing their weapons in public or to send home militiamen not from this city — key parts of the agreement he struck with Shiite leaders to end seven weeks of fierce fighting around Najaf and Kufa.
"Unfortunately, there have been no positive initiatives from the office of Mr. Muqtada al-Sadr so far," al-Zurufi said. "Armed men are filling the streets and there have been number of attacks on state employees in Kufa."
Ragtag fighters wielding Kalashnikovs and rocket-propelled grenade launchers exchanged fire with U.S. soldiers approaching the center of Kufa.
The militia accused the Americans of shooting first. Coalition officials said U.S. soldiers were attacked by rocket propelled grenades and fired back.
Neither side released any casualty figures.
"God has protected us because truth is on our side," said one fighter, Salam Abdel-Aali. "Truth is in our side. Truth is always victorious."
Al-Sadr's uprising, which began last month, opened a second front for the U.S. military, which had already been battling Sunni Muslim guerrillas to the west and north of Baghdad and in the capital itself.
The three Marines died in action in Anbar province (search), which extends from just west of Baghdad to the Syrian and Jordanian borders, the U.S. command said. No further details were released, the U.S. military reported.
Also Saturday, the U.S. military reported two other service member deaths — one soldier from the Stryker Brigade who died Friday from non-hostile causes in northern Iraq and the other soldier from the 81st Brigade Combat Team who was killed Tuesday in a mortar attack south of Baghdad.
Nine soldiers were wounded in the mortar attack, a military statement said.
The casualties pushed the number of U.S. service members who have died since the beginning of military operations in Iraq to at least 803. It was unclear if the official death toll included the deaths on Tuesday and Friday.
Explosions could be heard in the center of Kufa, where al-Sadr's fighters took up positions in the streets surrounding a mosque. Militiamen manned checkpoints, standing near concrete barriers including one with a graffiti that read "Yes to armed resistance!"
In Kufa's Furat al-Awsat hospital, Ali Moussa, 22, lay in al bed with shrapnel wounds. His head was wrapped in a bandage and his black T-shirt was soaked in blood. Moussa would not say if he was a member of the al-Mahdi Army.
"I was walking down the street and they started attacking people," he said of the Americans. "They say there is a truce. Where is this truce?"
The deal announced Thursday provides for an end to armed clashes and removal of al-Mahdi militia fighters from the streets. It also calls for discussions between al-Sadr and the Shiite political and clerical hierarchy over the future of the al-Mahdi Army.
In addition, it calls for talks on the status of an arrest warrant charging al-Sadr with murder in the April 2003 death of a moderate cleric.
Lt. Gen.Ricardo Sanchez (search), the top U.S. commander in Iraq, has vowed his forces would kill or capture al-Sadr to put an end to his militia, which represents a challenge to the coalition and Shiite leaders cultivated by Washington.
But the agreement makes it unlikely al-Sadr will have to face justice or disband his militia before the Americans return power to the Iraqis on June 30.
The coalition has said it was not a party to the agreement but would suspend offensive operations to give the deal a chance to bring peace to this city, revered by Shiite Muslims worldwide.
In a statement Saturday, an official the country's largest Shiite political party — the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq — blamed al-Sadr fighters for the continuing violence and for an assassination attempt against one of its officials, Sadreddine al-Qobanji. Al-Sadr's office has denied the allegation.
An attacker opened fire Friday on al-Qobanji after he led prayers at the Imam Ali mosque, according to the cleric's spokesman Qasim al-Hashemi.
"As we condemn this terrorist act, we believe that elements of the al Mahdi Army are primarily responsible for what happened," said al-Hashemi.
The assailant was arrested by al-Sadr militiamen but they would not hand him over to the Shiite party, al-Hashemi said. "This means that this person is one of them, and is associated with them."
In Baghdad, a Shiite politician chosen by the Iraqi Governing Council as the next prime minister held consultations with U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi to pick a Cabinet to take over from the U.S.-led coalition, officials said.
The names of two key Kurdish politicians and a French-educated Shiite economist were floated for key Cabinet posts in the government of prime minister-designate, Iyad Allawi, according to the officials familiar with the deliberations.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, they said current Governing Council leader Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer, a Sunni from the northern city of Mosul, was a front-runner for the ceremonial job of president.
There have been reports that another Sunni, former foreign minister and Governing Council member Adnan Pachachi, was the likely candidate for the presidency.
Elsewhere, a loud explosion was heard in the eastern city of Fallujah and residents said an American Humvee was hit by a roadside bomb during a patrol. Saffa Bassem, 25, said he saw billowing smoke coming from the vehicle. There were no reports of casualties.
Fallujah, west of Baghdad, had been a center of the anti-U.S. rebellion in Sunni Muslim regions of the country.