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U.S. Would Welcome Al-Sadr Withdrawal

18 August 2004 -- The U.S. State Department is reacting cautiously to news reports that radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has accepted a peace plan to end fighting in the Iraqi holy city of Al-Najaf.

The plan would replace the one that fell apart a few days ago. According to an al-Sadr spokesman, it would disarm his militia and remove them from the Imam Ali shrine where they are encamped.

State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said today Iraqi authorities also are pressing the cleric to limit his participation in public life in Iraq to peaceful use of the political process. Ereli said whether al-Sadr accepts that and follows through is something that remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, delegates to Iraq's national conference today chose members to the interim National Assembly.

Walid Shaltah, a senior member of the organising committee for the process, announced that delegates have affirmed a list of candidates backed by the government. He gave few other details. No vote was held.

The 100-member National Assembly will oversee Iraq's interim government until elections expected in January.

The four-day conference in Baghdad was overshadowed by continued fighting between militiamen loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr and U.S. and Iraqi forces in Al-Najaf.

Earlier today, it was reported that al-Sadr had agreed to demands by the National Conference. Sheikh Husayn al-Sadr, leader of a delegation the conference sent to Al-Najaf but which Muqtada al-Sadr refused to meet, reacted cautiously to the reported agreement.

"If it is true [that Muqtada al-Sadr agreed to the conference's demands], it will usher in a new era where there is no tension and no extremism. But we hope, God willing, to reach a real and dramatic solution. That is what we really hope for," Husayn al-Sadr said.

(U.S. State Dept./AP/Reuters)

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