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Last Updated: Friday, 13 August, 2004, 23:37 GMT 00:37 UK
Najaf truce brings calm to city
An Iraqi woman and her children walk past US military armoured vehicles in Najaf on Friday
There has been a lull in the fighting in Najaf amid negotiations
A temporary truce appears to be in place in Iraq's holy city of Najaf, which is reported calm after more than a week of heavy fighting.

Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr has set out conditions for an end to the clashes between his men and the Iraqi-US force.

Supporters of the cleric say he was wounded in the fighting, but this has been denied by government officials.

The joint US-Iraqi offensive in Najaf has triggered pro-Sadr protests in a number of towns and cities.

Thousands of demonstrators gathered on Friday outside Baghdad's Green Zone, where most of the Iraqi government ministries are housed.

There were similar protests in Kufa, Samarra, Mosul, Falluja and Diwaniya, with some supporters of Mr Sadr demanding the resignation of interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and the withdrawal of US forces from Najaf.

Elsewhere:

  • About 20 Polish soldiers are trapped by fighters loyal to Mr Sadr at a police station in the southern Iraqi town of Hilla.

  • US troops launch air strikes against militants in Falluja, killing four people, witnesses and hospital sources say. The US has not confirmed the attacks.

  • In the southern city of Basra, a UK journalist is freed after being abducted from his hotel.

New orders

Najaf itself is calm despite the occasional burst of gunfire, the BBC's Matthew Price reports.

Click here for Digital Globe satellite image of Najaf

Our correspondent says the shrine of Imam Ali, around which most of the fighting has taken place, appears to be peaceful.

Mr Sadr and his followers are believed to be based in the shrine.

A US military official said troops had been given orders to halt the offensive, which was launched on Thursday with 2,000 US marines and 1,800 Iraqi troops.

"We are allowed to engage the enemy only in self-defence... That was a blanket order for everybody," Maj Bob Pizzitola from the 1st Cavalry Division was quoted as saying by the Associated Press news agency.

The US-led force is maintaining a cordon around the shrine, the cemetery and the old city.

Fate uncertain

Government officials say talks are under way with aides to Mr Sadr in the hope of resolving the standoff which entered its ninth day on Friday.

A spokesman for the cleric said a number of demands had to be met for the fighting to end.

Among them:

  • US forces must withdraw from Najaf

  • Sacred Shia sites must be administered by religious authorities

  • The release of captured fighters and amnesty for Sadr supporters

  • The restoration of basic services in Najaf

Earlier, Interior Minister Falah Naqib told Reuters news agency the cleric would "not be touched" if he left the shrine peacefully.


"We will go after the criminal elements which have penetrated the Sadr movement, but not Moqtada," he said.

The BBC's Arab affairs analyst Magdi Abdelhadi says the Iraqi government cannot afford to let Mr Sadr leave Najaf with his militia intact.

But neither can the cleric disarm them as it would be political suicide, he says.

Mr Naqib also denied that the cleric had been hurt during the overnight shelling of the area.

Reports of Mr Sadr's injuries came from his aides, who described them as not life-threatening.

Reports by Arab TV stations suggested he had been hit by shrapnel in the chest, leg and arm.

Mr Sadr is thought to have about 1,000 loyal fighters. It is not clear how many have been killed in more than a week of fighting.

Iraqi and US officials have said that, in the event of an assault on the central area, only Iraqi forces will enter the shrine, to avoid inflaming Shia sentiment.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's James Ingham
"Sadr has said civilians should not be harmed"



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