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Top Iraqi Shi'ite Cleric Arrives in Al-Basrah

25 August 2004 -- Iraq's top Shi'ite cleric, Ali al-Sistani, returned to Iraq today, arriving in the southern city of Al-Basrah.

Al-Sistani reportedly crossed into southern Iraq from Kuwait in a convoy of vehicles accompanied by Iraqi security forces.

Al-Sistani spent over two weeks in London undergoing medical treatment. He is seen as an important figure in resolving the conflict in the Iraqi city of Al-Najaf between Shi'ite militiamen and U.S. and Iraqi forces.

Al-Sistani is expected to stay tonight in Al-Basrah and continue to Al-Najaf tomorrow.

Earlier, gunfire was reported near Al-Najaf's Imam Ali Mosque.

U.S. tanks and other military vehicles are reportedly close to the the mosque as U.S. forces tightened their grip on the area. Iraq's interim government wants militants occupying the mosque to surrender and leave or face a raid by Iraqi security forces.