A major battle between US-backed Iraqi government forces and militants has left at least 250 insurgents dead, an Iraqi military source said.
Colonel Ali Nomas, a spokesperson for government forces in the central Iraqi city of Najaf, said on Sunday that over 250 bodies had been counted on the battlefield, at a village about eight kilometres north of the city, US-based Fox News reported.
Another Iraqi Army officer said that government forces captured 10 fighters, one of whom is Sudanese.
The battle occurred when Iraqi security forces reportedly confronted several hundred insurgents, who were gathering outside Najaf with the apparent goal of attacking Shia Muslim clerics in the holy city.
US military air support was called in during the battle. One US attack helicopter was apparently shot down, and the two-member crew killed.
The government and the US-led military coalition have been bracing for insurgent violence in the area as a huge flood of Shia pilgrims are arriving in the neighbouring holy city of Karbala to observe the sect's festival of Ashura beginning on Monday.
A force of 25,000 policemen and troops are in Karbala to secure the celebrations amid Iraq's continuing sectarian violence.