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Clerics Meet As Calm Returns To Al-Najaf

28 August 2004 -- Iraq's leading Shi'ite spiritual leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, met today with clerics as calm returned to the holy city of Al-Najaf.

City residents returned to their homes and shops after weeks of intense combat between Iraqi militants and U.S. soldiers. Peace came after al-Sistani persuaded militiamen loyal to radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to leave the city's Imam Ali Shrine and begin turning in weapons.

But another cleric, Sheikh Ali Najafi, told the French news agency, AFP, after meeting with al-Sistani that there is still a possibility the armed struggle in Al-Najaf could resume if "peaceful solutions" to end the U.S. occupation are not achieved.

U.S. soldiers have reduced their presence in Al-Najaf but are maintaining checkpoints, and some members of al-Sadr's Imam Al-Mahdi Army have refused to totally disarm.