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Najaf Quiet After 3 Week Standoff - 2004-08-27


The Iraqi city of Najaf is quiet, after militants loyal to a radical cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr, left the Imam Ali mosque, one of the holiest sites in Shia Islam. A deal was struck between the radical cleric and Iraq's most respected Shia leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, to end a three-week standoff between the insurgents and Iraqi government forces.

The streets of Najaf were largely empty late Friday, usually a busy time after prayers that mark the holy day at the Imam Ali shrine. But the shrine was shut, and the streets around it patrolled by U.S. troops and Iraqi police.

The remains of cars destroyed in air strikes and artillery barrages, downed power cables and other debris litter the streets of the holy city. The task for many in Najaf, like this man, now is to rebuild.

He says he wants to "reconstruct this city, the city of Imam Ali, so that it can exist in peace."

Hours earlier, thousands of people had poured into the mosque after an appeal by Iraq's most respected Shia leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, to go to Najaf to help bring about peace.

They were greeted by militants loyal to radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Late Thursday, Ayatollah al-Sistani had brokered a deal with Mr. al-Sadr for his forces to leave the shrine, where they had been holed up for the past three weeks fighting U.S and Iraqi government forces.

The two sides then left the mosque and turned over the keys to the Grand Ayatollah.

But despite the peaceful encounter between Mr. al-Sadr's and the Grand Ayatollah's loyalists, not everyone in Najaf is convinced that peace can be sustained.

Salah, 35, says that he is certain a third party is trying to disrupt the situation, but he is too afraid to say who it is.

Another man, 42-year-old Haqim, was more frank.

Mr. Haqim says that some officials from the government of deposed President Saddam Hussein are working with Moqtada al-Sadr, so they will try to hide and fight.

Under the peace deal brokered by Ayatollah al-Sistani, all armed groups are to lay down their weapons and leave Najaf, the interim government is to compensate people for damage sustained during the fighting, and Iraqi police are to assume responsibility for security.

U.S. forces also are expected to leave the city.

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