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Al-Fallujah: Hostilities could resume 'on short notice'
19 April 2004 -- The U.S.-led coalition in Iraq today announced an agreement to defuse tension in the flashpoint Sunni city of Al-Fallujah that includes joint patrols with Iraqi security forces.
Coalition spokesman Dan Senor told a news briefing in Baghdad the agreement includes an amnesty for individuals who hand in heavy weapons. He said it allows the injured to seek treatment in hospitals and for families to bury their dead.
Senor outlined a joint communiqué to be issued as a result of negotiations between coalition officials, the Iraqi Governing Council, and a delegation of Iraqi leaders from Al-Fallujah.
"All parties, according to the communique, welcomed the improved situation in the city of Fallujah and committed themselves to take all possible measures to implement a full and unbroken cease-fire," Senor said. "They recognize that, in the absence of a true cease-fire, major hostilities could resume on short notice."
U.S. Marines launched the crackdown in Al-Fallujah in early April after four American civilian contractors were killed and their bodies mutilated by a crowd of Iraqis on 31 March.
U.S. Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt told reporters that attacks against the coalition troops have diminished over the past day: "Anticoalition-force attacks continue to stay at a lower level than recent norms, with 10 attacks over the past 24 hours."
The agreement in Al-Fallujah came after the top U.S. official in Iraq warned that Iraqi security forces will not be ready to defend their country by the time an interim Iraqi government takes over on 30 June.
U.S. civilian administrator L. Paul Bremer said yesterday that clashes the past two weeks have shown Iraq still needs outside help to deal with security threats.
"It is clear that the Iraqi forces will not be able, on their own, to deal with these threats by 30 June, when an Iraqi government assumes sovereignty. So, after 30 June, Iraq and troops from many countries, including the United States, will be partners in providing security," said Bremer, speaking at a Baghdad city-council meeting.
Bremer's statement came a day after 10 U.S. troops were killed in fighting throughout Iraq. The total includes five U.S. Marines who died in clashes near the Syrian border. This April has been the bloodiest single month for U.S. soldiers since the start of the war over a year ago.
The 2,500 U.S. troops poised outside the holy Shi'a city of Al-Najaf said today they will allow time for talks before attempting to enter the city to seize radical Shi'a militia leader and cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
The U.S. military has said it wants to kill or capture al-Sadr, who is wanted in connection with the murder of a rival Shi'a cleric, and destroy his Al-Mahdi Army militia. The commander of coalition forces in Iraq, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, said U.S. troops poised outside Al-Najaf would exercise restraint if they entered the holy Iraqi city.
Al-Sadr had declared a two-day cease-fire in and around Al-Najaf to mark the anniversary of Prophet Muhammad's death. The event, which reaches its peak tonight, is usually observed by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims.
A spokesman for al-Sadr, Qays al-Khazali, has urged militia members to stop attacks on Spanish troops after Madrid announced their upcoming withdrawal from Iraq. Spain contributes some 1,300 troops to the 9,000-strong Polish-led force patrolling a large part of southern Iraq.
Al-Khazali urged other countries to follow the example of Spain and withdraw their forces in order to "save the lives of their soldiers."
The commander of the Polish-led multinational force in Iraq, General Mieczyslaw Bieniek, said today that the Spanish withdrawal will not affect his operations.
Al-Khazali also reiterated a statement from yesterday that al-Sadr would favor the deployment of UN peacekeepers in Iraq under certain conditions -- one being that it include Muslim soldiers and troops from countries outside the U.S.-led coalition.
AFP news agency reports that al-Khazali told a news conference that militiamen loyal to al-Sadr clashed today with U.S. troops in the Iraqi town of Kufa, on the east bank of the Euphrates river. A spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition said he had no immediate reports of a clash in Kufa.
In Sofia, Bulgarian Defense Minister Nikolai Svinarov said new U.S. troops would reinforce Bulgarian soldiers in the holy Shi'a town of Karbala. He did not elaborate on the size and makeup of the new U.S. contingent. Five Bulgarian soldiers were injured in Karbala earlier this month when their 485-strong battalion clashed with al-Sadr's fighters.
Meanwhile, the UN special envoy for Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi, was in Italy today in the latest of a series of meetings with key European officials to discuss a stronger role for the UN in Iraq. Yesterday he met with European Commission President Romano Prodi in Bologna and began talks with Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini today.
(Compiled from wire reports)