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Muqtada al-Sadr's followers have been given a deadline to disarm.
19 August 2004 -- An Iraqi government official has said a military offensive against Shi'ite militiamen loyal to Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in the holy city of Al-Najaf will begin in "hours" unless they disarm.
Interim Minister of State Qassim Dawud said the government demands that al-Sadr promise to end the violence in the holy Shi'a city and disband his forces. Otherwise, Dawud said, the coming hours will be "decisive."
Al-Sadr spokesman Sheikh Ahmad al-Shaybani today said al-Sadr wants to negotiate arrangements to implement the demand.
Iraq's interim Defense Minister Hazim al-Sha'lan al-Khuza'i gave a similar deadline yesterday. Later in the day, al-Sadr reportedly agreed to end the standoff, but called for a cease-fire to be in place before his forces will pull back.
Early today, there were reports of continued fighting in Al-Najaf, where U.S. and Iraqi forces have been battling al-Sadr's Imam Al-Mahdi Army for the last two weeks.
(Reuters/AFP/AP)For the latest news on Iraq, see RFE/RL's webpage on "The New Iraq".