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Sadr vacates Najaf shrine
August 20, 2004 20:01 IST
Earlier, American tanks and troops and surrounded the mosque and threatened to storm it after interim President Iyad Allawi issued his 'last warning.'
The siege came after a night of intense fighting in the city. According to the Iraqi health ministry, 77 people were killed and 70 wounded in fighting in Najaf since Thursday.
But Sadr's spokesman Sheikh Ali Shaibani told journalists while vacating the mosque that the cleric would not accept Allawi's demand to disband his Mehdi army and would continue to fight the occupation forces.
Allawi, however, said that the "olive branch is still extended" to Sadr.
"We have extended and still extend an open hand to Moqtada Sadr. He can join the political process and he is welcome to," he told the BBC.
He also claimed that those in the shrine included Al-Qaeda fighters and "ex-criminals [who] have wired up the holy shrine to blow it up."