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Iraqi Prime Minister Asks Militias to Put Down Arms

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 12, 2004 – Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi today called on armed fighters in his country to "drop their weapons and return to society."

In a statement read in Arabic at a Baghdad news conference then translated into English, Allawi also assured the Iraqi people that government troops have not targeted shrines and other holy sites. But, he added, illegal militias have targeted and occupied such sites. "These places have never been exposed to such violations in the past," he said.

He said armed groups striking out at economic targets in southern Iraq, particularly the oil industry, have led to $60 million in losses. "These large amounts of money were originally dedicated to the people and also to the rebuilding of Iraq," the statement said.

Kasim Daoud, an Iraqi minister of state, said the fighting in Najaf "is not to the benefit of anyone." The armed groups claim to be resisting occupying forces but, he said, in truth, they are "murdering and massacring" the Iraqi people and destroying public institutions.

"They are trying to derail the rebuilding of Iraq, trying to prevent Iraqis from carrying out their normal life, are trying to threaten their future," Daoud said. "They're targeting all the vital institutes in Iraq. The security forces are targeted. This doesn't fall in the category of resistance to occupation."

Daoud showed photos of illegal militia forces taking refuge in the Imam Ali shrine in Najaf, a site sacred to Shiite Muslims. He said the fighters also are firing mortars from the shrine and planting mines there.

Still, he assured the Iraqi people and those in other Muslim nations, the interim Iraqi government will not allow foreign military forces to enter the shrine. Most Iraqis consider it sacrilegious for non-Muslims to enter holy sites.

"The Iraqi police and the Iraqi armed forces will be the forces to liberate these locations that have been occupied by these gangs," Daoud said.

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