Truce talks in Najaf collapse

MANAMA, AUG. 14. Talks to end a week of raging violence in Najaf have collapsed, reopening prospects of another round of conflict in the Shia dominated southern Iraqi city.

Mouwaffaq Al-Rubaie, the National Security Adviser in the U.S.-backed Iraqi interim Government, who had been involved in talks with supporters of the firebrand Shia cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr said today that he had tried to persuade the group to disarm and join the political mainstream. "I feel deep sorrow and regret to announce the failure of the efforts we have exerted to end the crisis in Iraq peacefully,'' he said. "We have been talking and discussing these matters for three days but reached no positive conclusion,'' he added. "After three days, my Government thought there was no use in continuing.''

Ahmed al-Shaibany, a spokesman for Mr. Al-Sadr in Najaf, pinned the blame for the failure of the talks on the Americans. "There are particular points and demands we had that we specifically wanted the Americans to sign on, but they refused,'' he said.

Among those demands, he said, was the U.S. compensation for the families of those killed during fighting with the Americans.

The U.S. military has said that hundreds of people loyal to Mr. Al-Sadr have been killed in the Najaf fighting, but the guerillas say that the figure is exaggerated. Mr. Al-Sadr issued a list of demands on Friday, including an American withdrawal from Najaf and amnesty for all his fighters. In exchange, his followers would disarm and pull out of out of the revered Imam Ali shrine and Najaf's old city, where they have taken refuge.

Mr. Al-Rubaie said he was leaving Najaf, but would return for fresh negotiations in case they materialised. He regretted that Mr. Al-Sadr had not directly participated in the talks, adding that it was his impression that some `elements' were blocking his effort to hold a face-to-face meeting with the cleric.

Government's proposal

AP reports:

However, Mr. Al-Sadr himself did not participate in the talks and Al-Rubaie said he felt some `elements' were hindering his efforts to hold a face-to-face meeting with the firebrand cleric. The Government negotiator said he had proposed that Al-Sadr's militia be disbanded and become a political movement.

"We have been talking and discussing these matters for three days but reached no positive conclusion," he said. "After three days, my Government thought there was no use in continuing.''

Mr. Al-Sadr's aide, Sheik Ali Smeisim, said both sides had agreed on all points, but the interim Prime Minister, Ayad Allawi, suddenly told the Government officials to break off talks and return to Baghdad.

``It is a conspiracy to commit a big massacre,'' he told the pan-Arab Al-Jazeera television station.

The battles ended on Friday as both sides respected a cease-fire during the negotiations.

Despite the halt in attacks, about 10,000 demonstrators from as far away as Baghdad arrived in Najaf on Saturday to show their solidarity with the militants and act as human shields to protect the city.

Samarra bombed

In other violence, U.S. warplanes bombed the largely Sunni city of Samarra, about 96 km north of Baghdad, after a series of clashes there.

The U.S. military said about 50 militants were killed in the operation, but police Maj. Saadoun al-Dulaimi said 12 persons were killed.

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