NAJAF, Dec 27: Tension was mounting in the Iraqi city of Najaf on Wednesday after an American soldier killed a senior ally of Shia religious leader Moqtada al-Sadr during a raid on his house.

Sadr supporters and local police told AFP that US and Iraqi soldiers overnight stormed the family home of Sahib al-Ameri, the President of a pro-Sadr political foundation in the holy city of Najaf, and shot him dead.

The US military confirmed a coalition soldier killed a suspect, whom it said was implicated in recent bomb attacks on US and Iraqi forces, after he fled to the roof of the house and aimed an assault rifle at an Iraqi soldier.

“The coalition soldier observed the man's hostile intent against the Iraqi soldier and shot the man, neutralising the threat and resulting in his death,” it said in a statement, without naming the suspect.

Hundreds of mourners marched from Sadr's office in Najaf to the revered shrine of Imam Ali chanting anti-American slogans and denouncing Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki as a traitor for working with US officials.

Sadr is nominally a supporter of Maliki's US-backed coalition -- although his party's MPs and ministers are boycotting government business -- but he is bitterly opposed to the American troop presence.

His supporters have demanded a timetable for the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq as the price for their continued support for the unity government.

Sheikh Abdul-Razzaq al-Nadawi, a member of Sadr's office in Najaf held a press conference at the cleric's house in Najaf and accused the Americans of seeking to provoke a confrontation in a hitherto largely peaceful city.

“We condemn this heinous crime,” he declared. “Security in the city is back to square one. Targeting Al-Ameri means targeting the whole Sadr trend.

“They always claim that the trend is undermining the political process. We tell them that Najaf is secure and stable. This escalation and provocation is meant to drag us into a comprehensive and open confrontation,” he declared.

“Al-Ameri was not from the military, or political cadres or even the Mahdi Army. He was a man running a cultural institution that is in charge of issuing a newspaper,” Nadawi complained.

At an optimistic ceremony last week, the US military handed control of security in Najaf -- a pilgrimage city and home to the mausoleum of Imam Ali -- to local Iraqi police and military units.—AFP

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