Truce in Najaf as talks to end fighting continue

A temporary cease-fire seemed to be in place in the holy city of Najaf on August 14, while envoys of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr negotiated with Iraq’s interim government to end the fighting, reported AP.

For now, Najaf, the center of nine days of fighting between al-Sadrs Mehdi Army militiamen and the government and U.S. troops, was quiet for a day after the U.S. suspended a major offensive.

A U.S. military official said troops were given orders to halt the offensive, which was launched on Thursday August 12 with 2,000 U.S. marines and 1,800 Iraqi troops, according to BBC.

Aides to al-Sadr told Iraqi negotiators that the cleric was prepared to disarm his followers, but wanted a number of demands met before the fighting ended. The demands included an American withdrawal from Najaf and the release of captured fighters and amnesty for al-Sadr supporters.

U.S. troops and Iraqi officials wanted to ensure that any new truce would eliminate the flaws of the previous agreements, including one that ended a two-month uprising in early June, according to U.S. officials and witnesses.

One of the cleric’s assistants, Ahmed al-Shaibany, described the talks as “serious and positive, but difficult.”

But, al-Sadr still appeared unwilling to compromise with the government or U.S. troops when he made a speech from Najaf’s revered Imam Ali shrine, where he retreated with his loyalists, urging his men to keep fighting elsewhere in Iraq, said AP.

“We have gotten rid of Saddam, (now) we have those who are worse than Saddam,” he said Friday night. “Maybe there is a truce for a day or two. Oh brothers in the rest of the provinces, continue your jihad, maybe it (the government) wants to silence the sound of truth so don’t let it, said al-Sadr.

Al-Sadr spoke with a bandage around his right hand. Aides said he had suffered light shrapnel wounds Friday August 13 as he met with his followers near the shrine.

Iraqis held demonstrations Friday in support for al-Sadr in cities across the country, with some supporters of al-Sadrs demanding the resignation of interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Najaf.

Before Thursday, the U.S. military estimated that hundreds of insurgents had been killed in the Najaf fighting since it began last week, but the militants disputed the figure. So far, six Americans had been killed, along with about 20 Iraqi officers, reported AP.

Sources: The Associated Press and BBC.