NAJAF, Iraq – U.S. soldiers clashed with Shiite gunmen in the holy city on Sunday, a day after Najaf's governor accused radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr (search) and his supporters of not honoring a deal to end fighting here.
Three Iraqis were injured in Sunday's exchange of gunfire, hospital officials said.
Al-Sadr's uprising, which began last month, opened a second front for the U.S. military, which had already been battling Sunni Muslim (search) guerrillas to the west and north of Baghdad and in the capital itself.
Three Marines died in action in Anbar (search) province on Saturday, 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.
Elsewhere, authorities found the body of one of two Japanese journalists killed in an ambush 20 miles south of Baghdad, Japan's Foreign Ministry said Sunday.
Two bodies were found at the scene — freelance journalist Shinsuke Hashida, 61, and his translator. Another body was later found about six miles from the site of the attack and authorities believe it is that of Hashida's nephew, Kotaro Ogawa, the ministry said.
Though ministry officials declined to say why it was difficult to identify the second journalist's body, Japan's Kyodo news agency said the body was charred beyond recognition.
In Najaf, Gov. Adnan al-Zurufi 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, Najaf's twin city.
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.
Explosions were heard Saturday 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 the young cleric with murder in the April 2003 death of a moderate cleric.
The United States has vowed it would kill or capture him to put an end to his militia, which represents a challenge not only to the coalition but to 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 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.
In Baghdad, Iraq's Governing Council convened Sunday to select a government for the country after the transfer of sovereignty on June 30, with the choice for the figurehead president emerging as a stumbling block to an agreement.
A council member, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the U.S. governor of Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, and special U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi were exerting "massive pressure" to choose former Foreign Minister Adnan Pachachi.
However, the council member said most of the 22 members favored the current head of the council, civil engineer Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer. Both are Sunni Arab Muslims.