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Standoff Continues with Militant Cleric in Najaf - 2004-08-19

Fighting continues in Najaf even though Iraq's Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has made a final call to Shi'ite militants to lay down their weapons and leave the holy Imam Ali shrine in Najaf. Militants threaten to kill a Turkish hostage and missing American journalist. And, in New York and Geneva, a special ceremony marks the one-year anniversary of the deadly bombing of U.N. offices in Baghdad.

Prime Minister Allawi said security operations are underway against militants loyal to firebrand cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in Najaf and other cities. And he called on the cleric one more time to disarm his fighters and leave the holy Imam Ali shrine.

"As we confront their constant delay and inclination to do evil, we will categorically not allow armed militia. This is the final call to them to disarm, vacate the holy shrine, engage in political work and to consider the interest of the homeland above the factional and personal eons and to work together to improve the conditions of the country and participate in unifying the people to build a pluralistic democracy and accept the opinion of the other instead of warring," he said.

Mr. Allawi said he wants to hear directly from Moqtada al-Sadr on whether he will accept the peace proposal. So far the radical cleric and his militia have not budged.

Hours after Prime Minster Allawi issued the ultimatum, U.S. warplanes hit targets in Najaf. And, seven Iraqi policemen were killed in a mortar attack on a police station there.

In Washington, former U.N. weapons inspector David Kay told a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing that the CIA had failed in its intelligence gathering on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Congress is analyzing a commission report calling for an overhaul of U.S. intelligence and security operations.

"Failure of the CIA in Iraq was so persuasive and indicative of large-scale failures and analytical and collection trade craft, that it is a full time job repairing that agency and it must be a priority," he said.

President Bush partly relied on the faulty CIA information to justify the war in Iraq.

And, at U.N. headquarters in New York and Geneva, special ceremonies commemorated the one-year anniversary of the deadly attack on U.N. offices in Baghdad.

Speaking at the ceremony in Geneva, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said the reality for U.N. workers is often a life of danger. "The danger is that we, servants of the United Nations, will no longer be victims simply by virtue of the times and places in which we are called to serve but may have become in ourselves one of the main targets of political violence," he said.

The new U.N. envoy to Iraq and his staff have not resumed full operations in Baghdad because of the unstable situation there.

In other developments, two different militant groups in Iraq are threatening to kill their hostages. One hostage is a Turkish truck driver. The other hostage is believed to be a missing American free lance journalist.