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GUNS-FOR-HIRE REPELLED NAJAF ATTACK

"An attack by hundreds of Iraqi militia members on the U.S. government's headquarters in Najaf on Sunday was repulsed not by the U.S. military," the Washington Post reports, "but by eight commandos from a private security firm."Before U.S. reinforcements could arrive, the firm, Blackwater Security Consulting, sent in its own helicopters amid an intense firefight to resupply its commandos with ammunition and to ferry out a wounded Marine, sources said."This is the second time in a week Blackwater has been in the news."The four men brutally slain Wednesday in Fallujah were also Blackwater employees and were operating in the Sunni triangle area under more hazardous conditions -- unarmored cars with no apparent backup -- than the U.S. military or the CIA permit."THERE'S MORE: According to the AP, radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has left his mosque in the city of Kufa -- where his militants have pretty much replaced allied and Iraqi authorities. Those forces appear to have taken over the shrine of Imam Ali in Najaf, Juan Cole says. That's bad news, because the shrine is one of the holiest places in all of Shi'ite Islam -- equivalent, if I understand right, to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.There is some good news, however. According to the Washington Post, Baghdad's Sadr City slum -- named after Muqtada's father -- appears to have been re-taken by U.S. troops.

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