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Najaf Standoff Continues - 2004-08-21

Shi'ite religious leaders in the Iraqi city of Najaf are still at an impasse in ending the 17-day standoff at the city's Imam Ali shrine.

Aides to senior Shi'ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani have told Moqtada al-Sadr's aides that their fighters must vacate the shrine, lock its gates, and deliver the keys to the ayatollah's office.

But late Saturday, the militiamen showed no signs of leaving the holy site.

A spokesman for the defiant cleric said the ayatollah must send a delegation to inventory the shrine's valuable items so the militia cannot be accused of damaging or stealing anything, before they are willing to leave.

Meanwhile, sporadic fighting between militiamen and U.S.-backed Iraqi forces could be heard in the city.