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Last Updated: Monday, 14 April, 2003, 10:46 GMT 11:46 UK
Siege of Shia cleric ends
Tony Blair and Sayyed Abdul Majid al-Khoei
Pro-Western Sayyed Abdul Majid al-Khoei was murdered
Gunmen surrounding the home of a Shia spiritual leader in Najaf, southern Iraq, have disbanded following the intervention of tribal elders.

Around 50 armed men had gathered at the house of Ayatollah Mirza Ali Sistani on Saturday demanding him to leave the country within 48 hours.

The mob are accused of killing a prominent pro-Western Shia cleric Sayyed Abdul Majid al-Khoei in the city last week.

The two incidents have led to speculation of mounting tension between Shia factions in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq as they battle for political power.

The group surrounding Mr Sistani's house were made up of followers of Muqtada al-Sadr, the 22-year-old son of Mohammed Sadeq al-Sadr, a senior Shia leader assassinated in 1999, said Kuwaiti cleric Mohammed Baqer Musawi al-Muhri.


They are said also to have targeted another Shia cleric in Najaf, Sayyed Mohammad Said al-Hakim, who reportedly has links with the Tehran-based Supreme Assembly of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SAIRI), the main Shia group that opposed Saddam Hussein's regime.

Following the crowd's dispersal Mr Sistani is reported to still be inside his house, but "out of danger".

The US Central Command earlier said the cleric had instructed the Iraqi people "to remain calm and to not interfere with coalition actions".

Shia Muslims account for 60% of Iraq's population but they have long been discriminated against by the Sunni-dominated ruling elite.

Coalition forces in the last Gulf War notoriously failed to support an uprising by retreating Iraqi soldiers and Shia Muslims.

Najaf has a particular significance to Shia Muslims as the tomb of Imam Ali, son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed and the first Shia leader is there.

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27 Feb 03  |  Middle East

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