08/19/2004, 00.00
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Iraqi minister says troops set for final offensive

Baghdad (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Iraqi Minister of State Qassim Dawoud announced in a press conference that "Iraqi troops are ready for the final offensive against Moqtada al-Sadr and his militiamen."

The minister issued conditions for a ceasefire this morning otherwise "a military solution to the crisis will prevail. [. . .] Action has become imminent and troops are set to go," he said.

Moqtada al-Sadr's support base in the country is shrinking. "If there were anyone sympathizing with him in the past, there will be none from now on because of this stand," delegate Abdul-Halim al-Ruhaimi said.

Najaf police chief Ghaleb al-Jazairi was even harsher. "We'll never stop fighting them," he said. "If they refuse to surrender their guns and leave, we will have to storm the place and kill them all." Al-Jaiziri's 84-year-old father was kidnapped by Moqtada al-Sadr's men.

In Baghdad delegates to the national conference set three conditions for a peaceful resolution of the crisis: rebels must leave the Imam Ali shrine and lay down their weapons in exchange for the right to form a political party. Al-Sadr has to sign a declaration renouncing future violence and release all the civilians and police officers his militiamen kidnapped. He must also appear on television and announce the disbanding of his rebel al-Mahdi army.

The crisis in Najaf seems to be at a turning point. Moqtada al-Sadr seems to have accepted to disarm his militias and negotiate. His spokesman stated that in a letter sent to a delegate the radical Shiite leader was willing to accept the conditions laid down by the national conference. Al-Sadr also asked that a ceasefire be proclaimed so that his forces could leave the Imam Ali shrine.

Explosions were heard coming from Old Najaf, an area where the firebrand leader is sheltered with his men. (DS)

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See also
Security reasons cut size of delegation from national conference to Najaf
Five years after its fall, Baghdad is in chaos again
Al-Maliki: stop the military action against the Shiite militias
Apparent calm in Iraq's cities
Uncertain parliamentary vote hanging over US troop withdrawal plan


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