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Getting Closer? or Getting Closer to Being Blamed?

BAGHDAD (CNN) — Radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr suffered shrapnel wounds to his arm and chest during Friday fighting in Najaf while he was inside the Imam Ali Mosque, according to his spokesman Sayed Hazim al-Arajy in Baghdad.

The U.S. military denies any damage has been done to the mosque, and says the military has taken great caution and care not to disturb the site, one of the holiest in Islam.

“It’s extremely important to the local Iraqi security forces as well as to U.S. military forces that we minimize collateral damage to any holy sites,” Marine Capt. Carrie Batson said Friday. “Right now there’s absolutely no indication that any damage has been done to the Imam Ali Shrine.”

Insurgents loyal to al-Sadr have been battling U.S. and Iraqi forces in the Shia holy city for more than a week. The mosque compound is surrounded by Iraqi forces, but there is no plan to storm the site.

Al-Sadr was treated at the mosque and is expected to make a full recovery, al-Arajy said.

In the neighboring town of Kufa, Iraqi security forces led a pre-dawn raid with U.S. Marines on a mosque described by Batson as a “militia strong point.”

“Iraqi security forces entered the mosque, cleared it of Muqtada militia men, killing several of them, also taking eight detainees,” Batson told CNN. During the raid, U.S. Marines surrounded the mosque but did not enter the building.

This comes after Marines in Najaf Thursday raided al-Sadr’s house, including two hospital and medical buildings he used, Batson said. The cleric was not home at the time of the raid.

“We knew that Sadr was not going to be there,” she said. “In regard to Sadr, we’re not concerned about one man. Basically our focus is to stabilize this city.”

Batson said the raid was “very successful.”

There have been up to 2,000 Marines in Najaf and about 1,800 soldiers from the Iraqi National Guard in the area, U.S. military officials said. The U.S. Army’s 1st Cavalry Division has also taken up positions in the city.

Batson said Friday that 80 percent of Najaf is stable.

Iraqi authorities said al-Sadr and thousands of his allies inside the Imam Ali Mosque compound have been attacking their forces with mortars and laying land mines in the sacred compound.

Another spokesman for the cleric told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that was not the case.

“The fighters are not inside the holy shrine of Imam Ali,” Sheikh Salah al-Ubeidi said, blaming “several false news” reports.

Cooper then asked him about video and photographs showing mortar shells fired from inside the compound.

“I don’t believe it was from inside [the shrine compound] because it is something forbidden for us to go inside the shrine with our arms.”

Defense Minister Hazem Sha’alan stressed that Iraqi forces are near but not in the shrine compound. He said the multinational forces, referring to the Americans, are farther away, in the 1920 Revolution Square.

Iraqi forces and not foreigners would be engaged near the shrine, officials said.

Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib echoed that statement, saying, “We will not allow for any foreign forces to enter the shrine of Imam Ali.”

UPDATE: BBC

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