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U.S. Is Hopeful For Iraqi-Brokered Najaf, Kufa Peace Deal

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 27, 2004 – A Coalition Provisional Authority official today said he is hopeful about an Iraqi-to-Iraqi-brokered agreement designed to end fighting in the cities of Najaf and Kufa.

Dan Senor, chief CPA spokesman, told reporters at a Baghdad news conference that renegade cleric Muqtada al-Sadr stated in a recent letter that he'd order his militia to pull out of Najaf and Kufa as part of a peace deal made between him and senior Shiite religious leaders.

Sadr agreed to remove his militia from Najaf and Kufa, Senor reported, while U.S. and coalition forces would be pulled out of those cities. CPA officials would be allowed access to their offices, he noted, while Iraqi police and civil defense troops move in.

"As soon as the Iraqi security forces have assumed responsibility for public security and re-established law and order, coalition forces will reposition to their bases outside Najaf (and Kufa)," Senor noted, "while maintaining protective units at the CPA offices and the government building and Iraqi police stations."

Coalition forces will cease offensive operations in Najaf and Kufa, Senor said, but will conduct presence patrols until the security situation stabilizes.

"Throughout the process, coalition forces will retain the inherent right of self-defense," he emphasized.

Senor said he expects to soon see discussions between Sadr and Shiite leaders about disbanding the cleric's militia and about Sadr's alleged role in the murder of a fellow cleric last year.

"We have not altered our position with regard to the need to dissolve and disarm Muqtada's militia throughout Iraq," Senor declared, "or with Muqtada al- Sadr's obligation to meet the requirements of the arrest warrant issued to him."

Senor said he was "cautiously optimistic" about the agreement, noting it would start to be implemented today. There's currently no deadline for Sadr to make good on his commitments, and coalition officials will take a wait-and-see attitude for now, he said.

Sadr is thought to have directed followers to instigate anti-coalition attacks across the country starting in early April. Powerful Shiite clerics, alarmed at continued bloodshed and concerned about reported damage done to holy sites during fighting in the holy city of Najaf and other areas, likely decided to buttonhole Sadr to stop the violence, Senor said.

From the point of view of coalition and Iraqi Governing Council officials, attacks committed by Sadr's militia in past weeks negatively affected reconstruction and stability efforts and threatened to undermine the June 30 transfer of power to an interim Iraqi government.

Senor said he views the Iraqi-brokered peace agreement "as a very positive step, not only for the moment, but (also) for what it bodes, potentially, for Iraq post-June 30."

The coalition, Senor noted, "did not participate in the negotiation of the text" of Sadr's letter, but was briefed on its progress.

"What we are seeing here," he pointed out, "are Iraqis stepping forward and engaging Muqtada al-Sadr to try to reach a peaceful resolution."

Sadr's letter, Senor observed, contains "positive and constructive words." U.S.-coalition officials would closely monitor events in coming days, he noted, to see whether or not the cleric's pronouncements "are followed up with positive and constructive actions."

"Actions," Senor pointed out, "speak stronger than words."

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