The Imam Ali Shrine has been damaged, and the battle is being broadcast throughout the Arab world.
CNN’s Kianne Sadeq, who is inside the compound with other journalists at the invitation of al-Sadr’s Medhi militia, reported persistent sounds of mortars, gunfire and many explosions, and devastation to the streets, homes and businesses around the mosque compound.
Two of the mosque’s minarets have been damaged in recent fighting, and al-Sadr loyalists said a clock in one of the towers caught fire, Sadeq reported. The mosque is one of the holiest shrines in Shiite Islam.
“Everything outside of the mosque seems to be totaled,” Sadeq said.
Journalists inside the mosque were led there with the help of the Najaf governor, and had to pass through a cordon of U.S. tanks surrounding the outskirts of the mosque and then through defense positions of the Mehdi militia.
It was unclear whether the fighting signaled the start of an Iraq-U.S. offensive against the fighters.
Arabic-language television news networks were reporting pitched battles in the city.
Al-Arabiya reported that U.S. troops were attacking from three different locations. The fiercest battle was coming from what is known as the “Najaf Sea,” or Abu al-Kheir Street, about 1,000 meters (1,093 feet) behind the Imam Ali shrine, the network said.
Al-Jazeera, talking to sources on the phone, reported that U.S. planes were targeting the Doha Hotel and fighting around the holy sites. Al-Jazeera also reported, along with The Associated Press, an attack on a police station.