Moqtada Sadr Lays Down Truce Terms
Naseer Al-Nahr • Arab News
BAGHDAD, 14 August 2004 — US forces suspended a nine-day offensive in the Iraqi city of Najaf yesterday and Iraqi officials and aides to Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr were negotiating a truce.
Sadr, however, laid down a host of conditions for an end to the fighting. At a hotel in Najaf, a spokesman for Sadr’s Mehdi Army militia, Ali Sumeisim, spelled out the conditions — notably for the withdrawal of the US-led forces and handover of the city to the Marjayia, the Shiite religious authority.
If all multinational forces, Iraqi police and soldiers leave Najaf and the Marjayia agrees to take responsibility for the city, “the Mehdi Army would pull out from Najaf”, Sumeisim said. But he stressed they would not disarm.
All basic services must be restored in Najaf, and Mehdi Army recognized as an ideological movement with its members allowed to carry weapons for self-defense, Sumeisim said.
Those jailed for supporting the resistance, all imprisoned clerics and women must also be released from prison, the spokesman added.
Resistance fighters must no longer be persecuted and Sadr’s organization should be allowed to decide for itself whether it becomes a political movement, under the conditions.
“All followers of Sadr’s movement should be under a legitimate constitution written by a free, elected government,” Sumeisim said.
“Lastly, all efforts should be aimed at building a free, independent, unified Iraq,” he added.
The government insisted that Sadr leave the Imam Ali Mosque where he is holed up. “Sayyed Moqtada will not be touched if he leaves the shrine peacefully,” Interior Minister Falah Naqib said.
Najaf Gov. Adnan Al-Zurufi said the talks were between Iraqi government officials and Sadr’s representatives. National Security Adviser Mouwaffaq Al-Rubaie traveled to Najaf on Thursday and Defense Minister Hazem Shalan joined him yesterday to participate in the talks, Iraqi officials said. US officials were not involved in the talks, Zurufi said.
Iraqi police detained an Al-Arabiya cameraman in the embattled city and took him to an unknown location, the Dubai-based satellite television said.
“An hour ago, Iraqi police elements arrested in Najaf the cameraman of Al-Arabiya, Mohammed Fuad, while on duty,” said a television presenter.
In the southern city of Basra militants released a British journalist they had kidnapped and threatened to kill after Sadr demanded he be freed immediately. The journalist, James Brandon, was brought to the Basra’s office of Mehdi Army and freed.
“I’m OK, I’m recovering,” he said by telephone. “I’ve been released thanks to the Mehdi Army, because they intervened and negotiated with the kidnappers.”
As the crisis in Najaf continued, thousands of Iraqis demonstrated in support of Sadr in cities across the country. In Fallujah about 3,000 people chanted, “Fallujah is with Najaf, the target is America.”
An aide to Sadr called on Iraqi police and national guardsmen in Basra to join the ranks of the militia. “Either you are with us or against us,” warned Sheikh Ahmed Maliky as more than 1,000 faithful gathered for Friday prayers. He also called on former members of the army of ousted leader Saddam Hussein to join Mehdi Army “if their hands were not bloodied with crimes against the Iraqi people.”
Meanwhile, US planes bombed several targets in Fallujah for the second day, killing six Iraqis, including two children, witnesses and hospital officials said. Another 11 people, including one child, were wounded, said Fallujah Hospital director Rafeh Iyad.
In the southern city of Kut, seven Iraqis were killed and 34 wounded as US forces attacked suspected militia positions, a hospital official said, as the governor warned of airstrikes if fresh violence broke out.