20 August 2004 -- Radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is offering to hand control of the Imam Ali shrine in Al-Najaf to the top Shi'ite religious authorities.
Al-Sadr said through his spokesman Ahmed al-Sheibani that aides were meeting with representatives of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and that his Imam Al-Mehdi Army is prepared "to hand over the keys" to the shrine.
But al-Sheibani said militants fighting U.S. and Iraqi forces from inside and outside the shrine will not give up their weapons.
More than two weeks into the standoff, Iraqi Prime Minister Ilyad Allawi told the BBC today that there will be no attack on the mosque and that "the olive branch is still extended."
After an intense bombardment lasting several hours, the U.S. military ended its shelling of insurgent positions near the shrine
shortly before daybreak.
(AFP/dpa/AP/Reuters)For the latest news on Iraq, see RFE/RL's webpage on "The New Iraq".Factbox: Iraq's Holy City of Al-Najaf