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Top Iraqi Shi'ite Cleric Arrives in Al-Najaf

26 August 2004 -- Iraq's top Shi'ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, arrived in the city of Al-Najaf today in a bid to end a weeks-long conflict between U.S. forces and militiamen loyal to Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has ordered Iraqi forces to observe a 24-hour ceasefire in Al-Najaf, due to start when the respected elderly cleric arrived in the holy Shi'ite city.

As al-Sistani traveled by convoy from Al-Basrah to Al-Najaf, a mortar barrage hit the main mosque in Al-Kufah, reportedly killing some 25 people and wounding 60 others. It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the attack.

There have also been reports that unknown armed men fired on a crowd of people as they marched from Al-Kufah to Al-Najaf. The action reportedly resulted in several casualties.