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Last Updated: Saturday, 28 August, 2004, 18:17 GMT 19:17 UK
Iraq Shia leaders reject violence
Imam Ali shrine, Najaf
After weeks of fighting, calm has returned to Najaf's Imam Ali shrine
The four senior Shia Muslim clerics in Iraq have said that armed resistance is not the way to protest against the continued presence of US-led forces.

However, one of them, Sheikh Ali Najafi, said that if foreign troops stayed too long, then the time for peaceful solutions would be over.

The clerics met at the home in Najaf of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani.

Despite their comments, Saturday has seen another day of violence in both Shia and Sunni areas of Iraq.

The meeting of the group known as the Marjaiya came two days after Ayatollah Sistani's intervention ended a three-week long uprising in Najaf by Shia militiamen loyal to dissident cleric Moqtada Sadr.

Grand Ayatollahs Mohammed Saad Hakim and Ishaq Fayad met Ayatollah Sistani, who returned to Iraq on Wednesday from three weeks of medical treatment in London to force the peace deal.

Ayatollah Ali Sistani (L) and Moqtada Sadr
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Sheikh Najafi, the fourth cleric in the Marjaiya quartet, arrived later for a separate audience with Ayatollah Sistani.

BBC Baghdad correspondent Matthew Price says Iraqi Shia Muslims will listen to words of the senior clerics, and most will follow them.

Saturday saw the city of Najaf peaceful, but in Sadr City, a Shia city of the capital Baghdad, militants clashed with US troops.

A health ministry official said three people were killed and 25 were wounded in the skirmishes.

In eastern Baghdad, insurgents fired a round of mortars into a crowded neighbourhood, reportedly killing two boys washing cars.

Elsewhere in Iraq:

  • Unidentified gunmen kill at least five policemen in the mixed Shia and Sunni town of Baquba, north-east of Baghdad

  • US marines battle insurgents on Saturday in the largely Sunni flashpoint city of Falluja, where at least three people were killed during overnight American air strikes

  • In the northern city of Mosul, gunmen shoot dead a university lecturer, ambushing her as she drove to work

  • In the northern city of Kirkuk, US troops and Iraqi police are involved in a skirmish that leaves two policemen injured and is described as a "mistake"

  • Twelve Nepalese who are being held hostage in Iraq are shown on video footage on an Islamist website, with one of them reading a statement saying they had been misled into working there by "American lies"

Meanwhile, a team of ministers from Iraq's interim government has gone to Najaf to meet Ayatollah Sistani, and discuss plans to rebuild the city.

They arrived in two US Black Hawk helicopters and were driven to the Imam Ali shrine, the centre of the uprising.

Correspondents say the ministers found a city with its buildings pockmarked with bullet holes, and streets littered with wreckage and ammunition.

The Minister of State, Kasim Daoud, who led the delegation, said they had come to Najaf to congratulate Ayatollah Sistani and to consolidate the peace agreement.

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