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Iraqi Shi'ite Cleric Condemns Fighting

In Iraq, a radical Shiite cleric has called on his followers to end the deadly clashes that erupted in several Shiite cities Wednesday, and to concentrate on unity as the country's lawmakers struggled to agree on a new constitution.

Firebrand Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr urged his followers to stop the bloodshed and return to their homes.

He was speaking in the Shia holy city of Najaf, where the unrest started Wednesday. His group, the Mahdi Army, recently reopened its office there, which was closed last year after he led his second uprising against the American occupation of Iraq. They say the office was raided by members of a rival militia, the Badr Organization, which is allied to one of the country's largest political parties.

The ensuing clashes between the two militias spread to the Sadr City neighborhood in Baghdad and to other towns in southern Iraq, and offices of both parties were burned in several places.

Mr. al-Sadr called on the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq to reign in his own followers.

"I call on brother Abdelaziz al-Hakim to personally condemn what his followers have done and to investigate the matter," he said. He then called on "the pious" to refrain from attacking other Iraqis, and to avoid, in his words, "being swept up in plots of the west that targeting the unity of all Muslims."

The unrest came at an already sensitive time for Iraq, as lawmakers were struggling to approve the country's new constitution before Thursday's deadline. At least 21 members of parliament allied to Mr. al-Sadr suspended their participation in protest over the Najaf attack.

The situation was serious enough to prompt a rare late-night speech Wednesday on national television by Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

"I register my condemnation and great sorrow over such violent acts," Mr. al-Jaafari said. Then he added he will push an investigation into the instigators of the violence.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi defense minister said he was dispatching a special commando unit to Najaf to restore calm. And the U.S. Defense Department announced that it will deploy an extra 1500 paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division to Iraq for extra security ahead of the referendum on the constitution, scheduled for October 15.