Iraqi Forces May Raid Najaf Holy Shrine
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Aug 18, 9:57 AM (ET)
(AP) A picture of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, right, is seen posted on the wall of a deserted...
NAJAF, Iraq (AP) - Iraqi troops could raid Najaf's holy Imam Ali Shrine on Wednesday in a final push to root out Shiite militants hiding there while they battle U.S. forces, Iraqi Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan said.
That announcement came one day after an eight-man delegation sent to Najaf by Iraq's ongoing National Conference failed to negotiate an end to a nearly two-week uprising by militants loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
The delegates met with al-Sadr's aides Tuesday but not the cleric himself, who is believed to be hiding out in the shrine.
"Today is a day to set this compound free from its imprisonment and its vile occupation," Shaalan told the Arab-language television station Al-Arabiya.
Since peace talks have failed, "we have to turn to what's stronger and greater in order to teach them a lesson that they won't forget, and to teach others a lesson as well," Shaalan said.
After Shaalan's threat, renewed bombing and gunfire were heard near Najaf's Old City, the center of much of the previous fighting.
Shaalan said Iraqi forces were fully trained to raid one of the holiest sites in Shiite Islam. He reiterated that U.S. forces would not enter the shrine, which almost certainly would cause an uproar among the country's majority Shiites.
"There will be no American intervention in this regard. The only American intervention would be aerial protection and also securing some of the roads that lead to the compound," Shaalan said on Al-Arabiya.
"As for entering the compound, it will be 100 percent Iraqis. Our sons in the national guard have been trained on the breaking-in operation, which was easy for them."
While never referring to al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia by name, Shaalan referred to those who occupied the shrine as a "gang dressed in the clothes of religion."
State Minister Qassim Dawoud said the planned raid on the shrine would send a message to insurgents throughout the country.
"This will be a civilized lesson for those in Fallujah, Samarra, Mosul, Yusufiyah or Basra. Their is no lenience ... with those people," he said.