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Gunmen Fire on Marine Command Post

Gunmen Fire on Marine Command Post

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KUT, Iraq (AP) -- Assailants fired on a U.S. Marine command post in two drive-by shootings Thursday amid rising tensions between U.S. troops and followers of a Shiite cleric who claims control of this southern city.

No one was injured in the incidents, said Lt. Col. Doug Fairfield, operations officer at the Kut command post that is part of Marine Task Force Tarawa. At least 15 bullet holes were found in the building, a former Baath Party guesthouse that U.S. troops are using as their forward base inside Kut, which lies 100 miles southeast of Baghdad.

Fairfield labeled the attacks as "harassing fire," and said the Marines in Kut had "sufficient security." He said Marines returned fire briefly, but that the incidents weren't intense enough to be considered firefights.

Later Thursday, Marines were seen adding more sandbag reinforcements to the building.

Marines entered the city without resistance last week, but since then shots have been fired at them several times, Fairfield said.

The shootings came the day after a standoff on the city's main bridge over the Tigris River, where 200 protesters blocked a convoy of about 20 U.S. military vehicles for more than four hours. The same number of protesters came back for more anti-American demonstrations Thursday at the same bridge, Fairfield said.

Also Wednesday, rock-throwing protesters slightly injured one local man working as a translator for the Marines and broke the windshields of several vehicles, including trucks carrying medical supplies for local hospitals.

The protesters are backed by Said Abbas, a Shiite cleric who occupied city hall before U.S. troops entered Kut and who claims control of the city. U.S. Marines claim he has connections to Iran and groups that want to see an Islamic government in Iraq.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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