NAJAF, Iraq – With fighting raging for a fifth day in Najaf (search), Iraq's interim defense minister on Monday accused neighboring Iran of sending weapons to Shiite insurgents here, calling Iran his nation's "first enemy."
Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan (search) made the comments during an interview broadcast on the Arab-language television network al-Arabiya.
"There are Iranian-made weapons that have been found in the hands of criminals in Najaf who received these weapons from across the Iranian border," Shaalan said. "From far and near, the facts that we have say that what has happened to the Iraqi people is done by the one who is considered as the first enemy."
Since Thursday, U.S. troops and Iraqi security forces have battled fighters in Najaf supporting militant Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's (search) Mahdi militia. The U.S. military says hundreds of militants were killed in fierce battles Thursday and Friday; the militiamen have put the number far lower.
The latest violence Monday killed three people, including two policemen, and injured 19 others, said Hussein Hadi of Najaf's al-Hakim hospital said.
Najaf Gov. Adnan al-Zurufi said last week that 80 men who fought U.S. forces at a sprawling cemetery in Najaf were Iranian.
"There is Iranian support to al-Sadr's group and this is no secret," he said on Friday.