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20 August 2004 -- Militia loyal to radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr appear to remain in control of the Imam Ali Mosque in Al-Najaf today, despite earlier statements from Iraq's interim government that Iraqi police had moved into the shrine.

A senior Interior Ministry spokesman earlier today said police had entered the mosque without a shot being fired and arrested hundreds of militiamen.

A top al-Sadr aide refuted that statement. The U.S. military also said it could not confirm Iraqi police had taken control of the mosque.

Al-Sadr has said he will hand over control of the mosque to Iraq's most influential Shi'ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

Al-Sistani is currently in London where he has been hospitalized with heart problems. His spokesman said al-Sistani had told his aides in Al-Najaf to prepare to accept the keys to the Imam Ali Mosque, if al-Sadr's militia leaves the site.

Amid the persisting confusion, U.S. aircraft resumed operations on the night of 20 August against positions of al-Sadr's militia in Al-Najaf.

(wire reports)

For the latest news on Iraq, see RFE/RL's webpage on "The New Iraq".

Factbox: Iraq's Holy City of Al-Najaf
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