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Najaf Cease-Fire Talks Collapse - 2004-08-14

Iraq's interim government says talks to end the standoff in the holy city of Najaf have collapsed. A tense cease-fire had been in place as the negotiations took place.

Iraqi government officials had been holding talks since early Friday with radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and his militia, in a bid to restore peace to one of the holiest cities in Shi'ite Islam, after a week and a half of bitter fighting.

But the interim government's national security adviser, Mouffaq al-Rubaie, told reporters the talks have failed.

"The Iraqi interim government is resuming military clearing operations to return the city of Najaf to normal city functions, and to establish the law and order in this holy city," he announced.

Thousands of demonstrators have trekked to Najaf to protest the fighting near the Shrine of Imam Ali, one of the holiest sites to Shia Muslims. Hundreds of people have been killed in the battle for control of Najaf, and the unrest spread to a number of other cities in the Shia-dominated south.

The talks brought a two-day lull in the fighting, which now looks set to resume, just as the interim government readies to hold a key national conference in Baghdad.