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US, Iraqi Forces Prepare Major Attack on Najaf Insurgents - 2004-08-11

U.S. and Iraqi forces say they are preparing a major assault against insurgents loyal to radical Shi'ite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in the holy Shi'ite city of Najaf after a week of bloody clashes. Iranian journalists have been detained in Baghdad. And Iraqi politician Ahmad Chalabi returns home to defend himself against charges of financial misdeeds.

Radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has urged his supporters to keep fighting as U.S. and Iraqi forces prepare a major attack to oust the so-called Mahdi Army from the holy city of Najaf.

Najaf's police chief says several key figures in the al-Sadr militia have been arrested and are being interrogated.

The violence has taken its toll on Najaf. Residents are calling for and end to the bloodshed. They are also complaining about the presence of foreign troops in the holy city.

That sentiment was echoed by interim Vice President Ibrahim al-Jaafari who has called on foreign troops to leave Najaf and let Iraqi forces handle the job.

U.S. forces are also battling Mahdi Army fighters in a predominantly Shi'ite slum in Baghdad.

Iraq's top Shi'ite Muslim cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani will not require heart surgery after all, according to a statement issued by his office in Najaf Wednesday. The cleric, an influencial voice of moderation among Iraq's Shi'ite majority, flew to London for medical treatment last Friday, a day after fighting broke out in Najaf between U.S.-led forces and al-Sadr insurgents. Ayatollah Sistani has carefully distanced himself from the radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

A regional leader of Iraq's largest Shi'ite political party, the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, was shot dead in a drive-by shooting south of Baghdad.

In political developments, former Governing Council member Ahmad Chalabi returns home from a business trip to Iran in order to fight counterfeiting charges brought against him by an Iraqi judge.

And, in Washington, Mr. Chalabi's daughter Tamara told a news conference her father is filing a civil suit against Jordan, which he blames for sullying his reputation. Mr. Chalabi was convicted in Jordan in absentia in 1992 and sentenced to more than 20 years in jail for bank fraud.

"He has been accused in the past of stealing from his own bank, of alerting Saddam Hussein to a coup attempt, of stealing cars belonging to the interim Iraqi government, to passing U.S. secrets to Iran and now to counterfeiting Iraqi currency. All of these charges are false," she said. "All of these charges come from the Jordanian government who has never forgiven my father for exposing Jordan's illegal weapons deal with Saddam."

In other news, several journalists working for Iran's state news agency, IRNA, have been detained in Baghdad. No reason for the arrest has been given.