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New Iraqi Governor Proposes Deal to End US, Shi'ite Militia Standoff - 2004-05-11

Battles raged south of Baghdad overnight between coalition forces and loyalists of a wanted radical Shi'ite cleric. Meanwhile, a newly appointed Iraqi governor has proposed a deal to end the standoff between U.S. forces and members of the Shi'ite militia.

The U.S. military says at least 13 Iraqis loyal to radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr were killed and more than a dozen others were wounded during fighting south of Baghdad in the Iraqi town of Kufa.

Members of the cleric's Mehdi Army have been battling coalition forces in several southern Iraqi towns, and Tuesday demonstrators marched through the streets of Najaf where Moqtada al-Sadr is based, demanding that he and his militia leave the holy city.

The Shi'ite cleric is wanted for the assassination last year of a rival pro-U.S. cleric.

The newly U.S. appointed governor of Najaf, Adnan al-Zurufi, said Tuesday he would ask coalition authorities to delay arresting Moqtada al-Sadr until after the scheduled June 30 American transfer of sovereignty to a new Iraqi administration.

In return, the governor is proposing that the militias disband and surrender their weapons. Local police would take over security of the area. There was no immediate response to the proposal from coalition authorities.

In the meantime, investigations into the possible abuse of Iraqi prisoners are widening.

Army spokesman, Brigadier General Mark Kimmit, said the investigators will leave no stone unturned.

"I can not put a number on how many people will be involved in that investigation," he said. "I certainly know the investigation will be widespread, will be thorough. We are going to be as comprehensive as possible, so everybody who has any association or affiliation is a subject of that investigation and will be investigated."

General Kimmit says compensation for Iraqi prisoners who were abused in U.S. custody is being discussed at the highest levels and a decision will be made in the next few weeks.