Page last updated at 17:27 GMT, Sunday, 27 April 2008 18:27 UK

Iraqi cleric rejects talks terms

By Clive Myrie
BBC News, Baghdad

Supporters of Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr in Sadr City, Baghdad (25.04.08)
More than 400 people have died in Sadr City in recent weeks

The radical Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr has rejected preconditions set by the government for talks to end Iraqi army attacks on his militia force.

Prime Minister Nouri Maliki ordered a national crackdown on militias just over a month ago, including on fighters linked to Moqtada Sadr's Mehdi Army.

Sporadic fighting between Shia militia and government troops has continued in Baghdad's Sadr City over the weekend.

In the latest clashes at least eight people have been killed.

This brings the total number of deaths in Sadr City in recent weeks to more than 400.

Iraqi and US forces are trying to root out Shia militiamen in what is Moqtada Sadr's Baghdad stronghold in the east of the capital, and to reduce the number of mortar attacks on the Green Zone area of Baghdad, where Iraqi government ministries are based.

Mr Maliki says his forces will not talk to any militia leader unless their fighters hand in their weapons, stop interfering in the government's affairs, hand over fighters wanted by the authorities and provide the names of all those involved in violence.

But a spokesman for Moqtada Sadr has rejected these conditions.

On Friday the cleric issued a statement saying all sides should lay down their weapons and Iraqis should not be fighting Iraqis.

But it seems the central government is now determined to curb the power of the militia groups, many of whom are involved in gangsterism and crime.

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