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Iraqi Cleric Offers Cease-Fire, But U.S. Silent

Muqtada al-Sadr (file photo) 27 May 2004 -- Commanders of Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's militia said today that they received orders to withdraw from the Iraqi holy city of Al-Najaf following a new truce offer from al-Sadr, although those orders were said to have been put on hold in the absence of a U.S. response.

Earlier today, Iraq national security adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i said he has a signed statement from al-Sadr that the cleric is willing to pull members of his militia, the Imam Al-Mahdi Army, who are not from Al-Najaf out of that holy city.

Al Rubay'i read an English-language version of a statement purportedly from al-Sadr to the Shi'a clerical hierarchy of Al-Najaf that said: "I [Muqtada al-Sadr] announce my agreement to the following plan: eliminating all armed manifestations, putting government buildings to use by the government offices and institutions, [and] withdrawing all Mahdi Army fighters who are not citizens of Najaf from this city."

Al-Sadr reportedly called in return for murder charges against him to be suspended.

But there has been no response from U.S. command. The U.S.-led coalition consistently has said it will not negotiate with al-Sadr and that to end the confrontation he must disband his militia and agree to face justice.

The Imam Al-Mahdi Army began battling U.S.-led coalition troops in April after the arrest of a key aide and the announcement of a warrant for al-Sadr's arrest in the 2003 slaying of a rival cleric. The militia has received support from Shi'ites in Baghdad and southern cities.

Yesterday, U.S. forces were reported to have arrested a key deputy to al-Sadr, Riyadh al-Nouri, in Al-Najaf.

The U.S. military also reported killing a "very large number" of al-Sadr's militiamen in fighting in Al-Najaf and the so-called Al-Sadr City area of Baghdad. Local officials reported roughly 25 deaths in Al-Najaf.