08/17/2004, 00.00
IRAQ
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Security reasons cut size of delegation from national conference to Najaf

The national conference calls on al-Sadr to leave the shrine, lay down weapons, and form a political party.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) – The 60-member delegation sent to the holy city of Najaf to negotiate a ceasefire with Moqtada al-Sadr's rebel militias was reduced to 8 for security reasons. Led by the cousin of firebrand Shiite leader, the smaller group will try to reach Najaf by this afternoon.

The Imam Ali Mosque has been surrounded by US and Iraqi troops for some time because of the presence of al-Sadr's militiamen. Journalists were told to leave by the army, a sign that a final offensive might be in the making. The interim Iraqi government pledged that it would solve the crisis without damaging the Shiite sanctuary.

A spokesman for al-Sadr said the radical leader was prepared to negotiate peace conditions.

Rajaa Khuzaie, a delegate to the national conference and member of the former Iraqi provisional council, laid down the conditions for him and his armed men: evacuation of the Imam Ali Mosque and disarmament in exchange for the right to create a political party.

In the meantime, the other 1,000 delegates are in their third day of deliberation at the national conference, but they have not yet elected the 100 members of the future interim National Assembly scheduled to prepare the country for next year's parliamentary elections.

In Baghdad violence continues. Today 5 people died and 24 were injured in an attack in al-Rashid, a busy commercial district of the Iraqi capital.  

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