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Iraqi Government Urges Radical Cleric to Leave Najaf Shrine - 2004-08-22

The interim Iraqi government is calling on Moqtada al Sadr to end his military resistance at a holy shrine in Najaf, which has been the scene of a tense standoff between his militia forces and U.S.-led troops. Officials are urging the radical cleric to take his fight to the country's developing political arena.

Iraqi and U.S.-led troops have been on high alert in Najaf, where Moqtada al Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia have been holed up in the Imam Ali Shrine.

There were conflicting reports in recent days as to whether the radical cleric had vacated the shrine, but as of Sunday, he was still there.

Speaking on the ABC television program, This Week, Iraqi National Security Adviser Mowaffaq al-Rubaie said the government hopes for a speedy resolution.

"We very much hope that it would be resolved today, or in the next couple of days," he said. "We are trying our level best to apply pressure from a different angle, from a different direction on Moqtada al Sadr, to pull out of the shrine and to leave the Old City, and to disband his militia and to join the political process. That's our goals, and these are, have to be achieved. And these are our absolute duty of the interim Iraqi government, to establish law and order in Najaf."

Iraqi Ambassador to the United States Rend Al-Rahim told CNN's Late Edition, her government does not want violence, but will not wait forever to ensure law and order.

"They are being patient. They're not blinking. They're exercising self-restraint," she said. "They're not backing off, and there is a distinction. We want to solve this peacefully, if possible. But if it's not possible, we will solve it in other ways."

Ambassador Al-Rahim said the Iraqi government's priority is to persuade the radical cleric and his Madhi Army militia to leave the shrine.

"The terms that have been offered to Moqtada al Sadr are indeed generous, from the government," said Ms. Al-Rahim. The whole Mahdi Army movement has been invited to disband, disarm and become a political movement."

She added that any legal issues against any individuals, including Moqtada al Sadr, will be dealt with in due course by the Iraqi courts.

Meanwhile, Ambassador Al-Rahim gave no details, but indicated that her government is concerned about interference from Iran.

"We are concerned about Iranian official or non-official involvement," she said. "We are concerned with Iranian infiltration into Iraq. Whether sanctioned or not, we can't talk about it."

On the ground in Iraq, a roadside bomb killed one U.S. soldier in the northern city of Mosul. In a separate attack there, gunmen killed an Indonesian and two Iraqis.

Meanwhile, an American journalist who had been kidnapped in the southern city of Nasiriyah earlier this month was released. At the same time, a Web site linked to an Iraqi militant group showed photos of 12 Nepalese men it claims have been taken hostage in Iraq.