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Al-Najaf Fighting Continues

22 August 2004 -- Sustained fighting between Shi'ite militiamen and U.S.-led forces has broken out again in Al-Najaf, with explosions and gunfire echoing through the southern Iraqi city.

The fighting comes after talks to end a near three-week uprising led by radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr stalled. Negotiators failed to agree on how al-Sadr's militia should surrender control of Al-Najaf's Imam Ali Mosque complex.

A top spokesman in Baghdad for al-Sadr, Sheik Salah Jasem al-Obaidi, told RFE/RL late yesterday that the cleric remains in the old city of Al-Najaf despite press reports saying his whereabouts are not known.

"He is inside the old city of Najaf," al-Obaidi said." I know him myself. Believe me that Muqtada Al-Sadr will not leave Najaf except to [go to] his grave."

Fighting near the city yesterday claimed the lives of 40 Iraqis.

In separate developments today, Polish Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski said Poland wants to withdraw its troops from Iraq as soon as possible, but that would only happen when Polish troops have brought security to southern Iraq.


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