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Al-Sadr Aide Arrested As U.S. Troops Mass In Al-Najaf

Baghdad, 13 April 2004 (RFE/RL) -- A top aide to radical Shi'ite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr was arrested today in Baghdad, as U.S. troops gathered on the outskirts of the holy city of Al-Najaf, where al-Sadr is believed to be based.

The aide, Hazem al-Araji, was arrested by U.S. troops while attending a meeting of tribal leaders at a Baghdad hotel.

The arrest came as al-Sadr appeared to be on the retreat, ordering members of his Al-Mahdi Army to leave police stations and government buildings in Al-Najaf, Karbala, and Kufa.

A delegation of Shi'ite clerics is reportedly holding talks with al-Sadr in the hope of resolving the standoff between the U.S. military and the cleric, who over the past week has called for a bloody uprising against the coalition.

The U.S. military says its mission remains to "kill or capture" al-Sadr.

West of Baghdad, an informal cease-fire is reportedly holding on the U.S.-led coalition's second front, in the Sunni flashpoint town of Al-Fallujah.