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Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 October, 2004, 11:06 GMT 12:06 UK
Shia leader cuts ties with Sadr
Moqtada Sadr
The radical young cleric has a band of loyal followers
A senior religious leader in Iran has severed ties with radical Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr for encouraging his followers to fight US troops.

Grand Ayatollah Kazem Haeri, one of the top authorities in Shia Islam, said Mr Sadr was no longer his representative in the holy city of Najaf.

A spokesman said that Mr Sadr's actions no longer reflected the ideas of the Grand Ayatollah's teachings.

But he praised a scheme to disarm Shia militias in Baghdad's Sadr City slum.

Speaking on behalf of the Grand Ayatollah in the Iranian seminary town of Qom where he lives, his brother, Mohammed Hossein Haeri, told the BBC that Mr Sadr had not been blamed for damage to Najaf's holy shrines during heavy fighting in August.

The Grand Ayatollah wholly blamed the US and British for damage to the shrine, his spokesman said.

But Mr Haeri stressed that direct fighting with US forces was not a correct move.

The Grand Ayatollah is considered the successor of Moqtada Sadr's father, the Ayatollah Muhammad Sadeq Sadr, and acted as the younger Sadr's spiritual guide.

Amnesty 'successful'

The rebuke came as US officials spoke of the success of a cash-for-weapons scheme designed to restore peace to the Sadr City area, one of Baghdad's most impoverished and radical neighbourhoods.

The amnesty, which has been under way for more than a week, has been extended until Thursday after large quantities of rockets, artillery shells and mortars.

Fighters will be allowed to keep hold of Kalashnikov rifles and small arms.

Maj Gen Peter Chiarelli, commander of the US Army 1st Cavalry Division, said that local leaders in Sadr City had promised to defuse an estimated 1,000 roadside bomb planted in the area.

Mr Sadr's Mehdi Army militia has been involved in heavy street fighting against US forces in both Baghdad and Najaf in the past six months.

But he has urged fighters to hand in their weapons, raising hopes that he may join Iraq's political process.

Iraq's interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has pledged to extend the disarmament scheme across Iraq if it proves successful in Sadr City.


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