10:00 Fierce fighting continued overnight and Wednesday morning against Shiite radicals and Sunni insurgents. In Baghdad’s Sadr City, US strike jets carried out two sorties in 12 hours against strongholds of the 31-year old radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr. Overnight 12 Marines were killed and 20 injured, in a combined Shiite-Sunni assault on their compound in the Sunni Triangle town of Ar Ramadi, 30 miles west of Fallujah. The surprise attack was staged hours after US Marines went into Fallujah to settle accounts for the brutal murder of four US contractors last week. There, 35 insurgents were dead by morning.
In Karbala, five Iranians lost their lives in clashes.
12:45 Deputy Director of Operations Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmit in a Baghdad news briefing vowed to destroy the Shiite Mahdi Army militia. “We understand better now how they fight and against whom,” he said. If Sadr wants to restore calm, he can, said the general: let him turn himself in to the nearest Iraqi police station. (An arrest warrant is out against him for the murder of the rival pro-US cleric Khoei in a Najef mosque a year ago.)
Kimmit admitted coalition forces had withdrawn from the center of the Shiite holy town of Najef where the Shiite cleric outlawed by the Americans is believed to be sheltering. But he said they were heavily present on the outskirts of the town to “minimize risk” to the hordes of pilgrims due to celebrate important Muslim Arbain festival. In other towns where Sadr’s militia had seized centers, “military operations are ongoing.” The US commander refused to go into casualty figures on either side.
16:25 The strategic town of al Kut in southern Iraq fell to the Sadrist militia after the Ukrainian contingent’s retreat. This was the second town after Diwaniyeh to fall to the rebels, effectively cutting the southern highway to the Gulf port of Basra.
Clashes spread to the north where for the first time US forces fought a mixed Shiite-al Qaeda force near Kirkuk.
In Fallujah, US Marines fought their way through to the town center. US aerial bombardment and laser-guided missiles struck a mosque compound in which hundreds of insurgents had gathered after gunfire from the mosque killed 5 Marines. The number of Iraqi dead in the mosque attack is estimated between 40 and 200.
In their second day of combat in Shiite Karbala, Polish troops killed Seyyed Musawi, a senior aide and political adviser to Sadr.
Ground fire from the predominantly Shiite town of Baq’uba in the Sunni Triangle downed an American helicopter.
16:30 President George W. Bush started the Easter break at his Crawford ranch with a telephone call to British prime minister Tony Blair ahead of their crisis conference next week. He also held a video conference with US security chiefs, including defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, US Iraq administrator Paul Bremer and US Iraq commander Lt.-Gen. Ricardo Sanchez. Statements issued from Washington downplayed the Iraq situation, refusing to mention the word “crisis”, and stressing America’s “unshakeable resolve to stay the course” in Iraq and firm adherence to the June 30 deadline for handing sovereignty over to Iraqis. This date is placed increasingly in doubt as the violence in Iraq persists.
The Iraqi interim Governing Council has asked the US-led coalition to send troop reinforcements to overcome the insurgency.
19:00 In a further mark of coordinated Sunni-Shiite operation to battle the Americans, a delegation of Palestinians living in Iraq called on the Mehdi Army representative in Baghdad and offered help in the form of suicide bombers.
The Pentagon reports two newsmen are missing and may have been captured. Unconfirmed reports refer also to possible enemy kidnappings of US servicemen.
Senior Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali Sistani condemned the way US forces were tackling the Shiite uprising and called on Shiites to refrain from bearing arms in public.
Thirty-five US troops reported killed in four days of Sadrist Shiite uprising.
Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld tells Washington press: US forces are on the offensive and taking battle to the militants. No one need fear the US will retreat before a band of thugs and assassins. Coalition troops have exited Shiite pilgrimage towns at the request of religious leaders before the coming Shiite Arbain observances. Plans exist to mitigate risks in town centers and deal with the current situation.