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CENTCOM Reports Mosque Explosion

By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 7, 2004 – U.S. Central Command reported a large explosion and fire at the Kufa Mosque today.

Iraqi police tried to render assistance and were fired on by unknown attackers within the mosque, the news release stated. U.S. forces were not operating in the area at the time of the explosion.

News media reported that ammunition stored inside the mosque caught fire caused today's explosion.

Despite today's incident, coalition officials have reported a significantly improved security situation in Kufa and Najaf.

Senior coalition spokesman Dan Senor told reporters June 5 that since the implementation of a new peace agreement between Muqtada al-Sadr and the Shiia Caucus had begun, militia fighters loyal to the radical cleric had "virtually disappeared" from the streets, including Najaf.

"We expect that Muqtada al-Sadr will live up to the commitments he made to the Shiia Caucus regarding the withdrawal of his militia fighters from Najaf and Kufa," Senor said.

The agreement, announced 10 days ago by Najaf governor Adnan Alzurufi, calls for the departure of militia fighters; evacuation of occupied buildings; closure of the Sharia court and prison; and the return of the Iraqi police to all parts of the city.

Senor said the coalition would give the agreement 72 hours, "to monitor it, see if it is heading in the right direction."

"It's not a deadline," he explained. "It is just a period, a reasonable timeframe within which we think we can monitor the progress and see if this is sort of an isolated situation or is part of a broader trend to really resolve the situation peacefully."

Nevertheless, Senor warned that if Sadr does not meet the expectations of the Shiite Caucus and the coalition, the coalition "will act and respond accordingly."

He also cautioned that any fighters bearing arms in Najaf and Kufa after implementation of the agreement will be considered "third-party agents provocateurs." They too will be dealt with accordingly, he added.

Meanwhile, Senor characterized the most recent agreement between the two sides as "firm," though it is still in the implementation stage.

"What you have seen now is the actual withdrawal of Muqtada's militia from Najaf and Kufa," he said.

"You have seen the deployment of Iraqi police into the city. You are seeing joint patrols between Iraqi police and coalition forces. You are seeing these weapons being turned in," he added.

He said coalition officials view the agreement as a first and "now a second step" toward getting peaceful resolution to the violence in the two cities.

"We have said any time you have Iraqi leaders working among themselves to reach peaceful resolution in a situation that could otherwise be and has been quite violent is a positive sign," Senor pointed out.

Yet again, he again emphasized to reporters that two conditions concerning Sadr remain unchanged: He must disband and disarm his militia, and he must meet the requirements of the Iraqi arrest warrant issued against him.

"Muqtada al-Sadr must face Iraqi justice," he said.

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