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U.S. forces battle members of al-Sadr's militia

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Another American soldier died Wednesday amid continuing clashes between U.S. troops and Mahdi Army militiamen loyal to a young Shiite cleric in southern Iraq, killing an estimated 15 insurgents.

The heaviest fighting was in and around the holy Shiite city of Karbala, where coalition troops searching for weapons stockpiles raided a hotel, the former Baath Party headquarters and the regional governor's office, said U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, a coalition spokesman.

In Washington, the Bush administration asked Congress for an additional $25 billion to pay for war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan after the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla., said he expects the Pentagon to receive its money in time.

In Britain, meanwhile, Prime Minister Tony Blair told the House of Commons that he was in discussions with the United States about sending more British troops to Iraq. About 7,500 British troops are now stationed in southern Iraq. The Bush administration on Tuesday scrapped plans to reduce the number of U.S. troops and now plans to maintain about 135,000 troops in Iraq until the end of 2005.

U.S. troops in Karbala were trying to smoke out cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army on Wednesday and estimated that they killed 10 al-Sadr supporters. Another five insurgents were believed killed in overnight skirmishes in the al-Sadr stronghold of Kufa, a town adjoining Najaf, Kimmitt said. American troops attacked when they saw Iraqis unloading weapons from a van near a bridge.

A 1st Armored Division soldier was wounded early Wednesday and later died at a military combat hospital. Attackers in a dump truck rammed the soldier's Humvee in an attempt to run through a coalition roadblock near Karbala, the coalition announced.

The soldier's name was being withheld until his family was notified.

In central Iraq, the U.S. military reported "no cease-fire violations" in Fallujah, the Sunni Muslim city of some 250,000. Marines have handed off policing the city to a brigade composed of soldiers from the once-banned Iraqi Army.

Until Wednesday, Bush administration had declined to request additional money from the Congress for the war despite what many congressmen believed was an obvious need for more funds. Some lawmakers had complained that the administration didn't include any money for Iraq in its fiscal 2005 budget request.

Lawmakers in both parties said the administration was trying to postpone additional spending requests until after the presidential election in November, and senior Republicans pressed the White House and Pentagon to change its approach.

Democrats said Wednesday that the latest funding request was still deceptive and politically motivated.

The $25 billion "represents yet another effort to conceal the full costs of meeting the challenge in Iraq until after the election," said Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., the senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee. "The American people should be given all the facts about the costs they are expected to bear, rather than being fed information on the installment plan."

Sen. Robert J. Byrd, D-W.Va., the senior Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, called for thorough hearings on the administration's request. "Congress must understand how the $25 billion is to be used before it can pass judgment on it," Byrd wrote in a letter to Senate Armed Services Chairman John Warner, R-Va.

The recent spate of violence and instability has dramatically increased the rate at which the Pentagon is spending its money.

The costs have clearly escalated, Young said, adding, "Congress is going to provide whatever the soldiers and Marines need to win this war."

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(Rosenberg reported from Baghdad. Chatterjee reported from Washington. Ken Moritsugu contributed to this story.)

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(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

Iraq

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