Report: Al-Sadr Senior Aide Assassinated

(CBS/AP) Gunmen have killed a senior aide to anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, Iraqi officials say.

The officials say Riyadh al-Nouri was the director of al-Sadr's office in Najaf. He was shot to death as he drove home after attending Friday prayers in the nearby city of Kufa.

A policeman and an official in al-Sadr's Najaf office confirmed the killing but spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose the information.

The anti-U.S. cleric has his headquarters in Najaf, but the shrines in that city are dominated by a rival Shiite group and most of his followers are concentrated in Kufa.

Meanwhile, airstrikes in Baghdad and Basra killed 12 suspected insurgents, U.S. and British military officials said Friday, as Iraqi authorities lifted a two-week ban on vehicles in the capital's mainly Shiite Shula district.

The government lifted the ban in the northwestern Baghdad neighborhood that had been in effect there since fighting broke out between Iraqi troops and Shiite militia fighters last month.

A similar ban on vehicles in the sprawling Shiite stronghold of Sadr City is scheduled to be lifted Saturday. Iraqi troops supported by the U.S. military have been fighting to gain control of the district of 2.5 million people for nearly two weeks.

An unmanned drone fired on a group of gunmen carrying self-propelled grenades and mortars in Sadr City late Thursday, according to a military statement. Six were killed, the statement said.

Armed drones are routinely used for long air patrols over the capital. They rely on sensors to pick up militant activity during the night. Insurgents do not have air defenses capable of shooting down the slow-moving aircraft.

In other developments:

Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, insists the U.S. effort in Iraq is moving in the right direction. CBS News anchor Katie Couric spoke with him about the pace of progress in Iraq, his frustrations there and Iran's role in recent battles. "We are frustrated, but we have enormous national interest in trying to get this as right as we can and that's what keeps us pushing forward obviously," Petraeus said.

President Bush on Thursday ordered an indefinite halt in U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraq after July, embracing the key recommendations of his top war commander. Mr. Bush said Gen. David Petraeus will "have all the time he needs" to consider when more American forces could return home. Mr. Bush's decisions virtually guarantee a major U.S. presence in Iraq throughout his term in office in January, when a new president takes office.

The British military said a helicopter hit a group of gunmen in the Hayaniyah district of central Basra early Friday. Six people were killed. "They were positively identified as an active mortar team," military spokesman Tom Holloway said. The southern port city was the scene of fierce combat after Iraqi government forces launched a weeklong offensive on March 25 against Shiite militias.

The U.S. military said Friday that the pullout of the five brigades that comprised last year's surge of U.S. forces into Iraq is continuing with with the redeployment back to Fort Riley in Kansas of the 4th Brigade of the First Infantry Division. All five surge brigades are due to return home by the end of July, leaving about 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.


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