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Surrounded, Sadr offers truce in Najaf
April 15, 2004 14:19 IST
Iraq's radical Shia cleric Muqtada Al Sadr has dropped preconditions for talks with the American forces preparing to storm his stronghold, the holy city of Najaf.
Muqtada and his Al Mahdi army had declared war on the Coalition about 12 days ago, sparking off what many feared would become a Shia uprising.
The more moderate of Iraq's Shias led by their supreme leader Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, and other senior clerics have been also pressuring Muqtada to avoid a bloodbath in the holy city.
As US tanks and heavy artillery encircled the city in preparation for an assault, Sadr sent out envoys envoys seeking peace and personal safety, report agencies.
One of them, Abdul Karim al-Anzi, who was sent to Baghdad to meet members of Iraq's Governing Council and coalition officials, said Sadr "realises that an armed confrontation is not in anybody's interest."
"He does not want to be attacked, he wants his personal safety and he wants coalition forces to withdraw from Najaf," said another aide.
But coalition officials declined comment, and stuck to the position that their objective to get Sadr, against whom a arrest warrant has been issued earlier by an Iraqi judge for murder.
In other developments, Italy's foreign minister Franco Frattin confirmed that one of the four Italian civilian hostages being held hostage in Iraq has been killed. Italy's ambassador to Qatar had watched a video of the killing on the Arab TV network Al-Jazeera and identified the victim, Frattini said. The abductors threatened to kill the others unless their demands, including the pullout from Iraq by the coalition, were met.
This was the first confirmed killing of a kidnap victim, and is likely to affect international aid and other agencies working in Iraq. Over 22 foreign workers from a dozen nations are feared abducted so far, and Russia has announced the evacuation of all its citizens from Iraq. Most other nations have issued travel warnings to their citizens working in Iraq.
In Falluja, north of Baghdad, skirmishes continued to threaten a truce which has been extended by a day to facilitate talks between the coalition forces and the Sunni radicals opposed to the occupation of Iraq.
In the bloodiest uprising since the Coalition formally occupied Iraq in May last year, the coalition has lost 87 troops and about 880 Iraqis have been killed since April 1.