Thursday, August 26, 2004

Hostilities End in Najaf 

Sistani brokers a deal; in a humiliation for the Allawi government, Muqtada and the Mahdi Army will walk away free men. From the Washington Post:
In an agreement brokered by the top Shiite Muslim religious figure in Iraq, rebellious cleric Moqtada Sadr agreed Thursday night to withdraw his militia from a contested shrine and other parts of the city of Najaf after three weeks of fighting against U.S. and Iraqi forces, government and religious leaders said. The deal commits the country's interim government to significant concessions.

In exchange for Sadr's compliance, the government pledged to pull U.S. military forces out of Najaf and to allow Sadr, who had been wanted by the former U.S. occupation authority on murder charges, to participate in politics.

"He is as free as any Iraqi citizen to do whatever he would like in Iraq," said Qasim Dawood, a minister of state, after announcing the government's acceptance of the peace plan arranged by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani . . . .

Members of Sadr's Mahdi Army, a well-armed militia that numbers in the low thousands, will be allowed to leave Najaf and return to their homes without any sanction, despite having fought against U.S. and Iraqi security forces for three weeks . . . .

The deal also revealed the limits of the power of Iraq's interim government. Allawi and other senior officials had sought to avoid any resolution that would allow Sadr's militia to reconstitute itself, favoring the use of force to kill or capture as many militiamen as possible. But because the government could not rely on its security forces alone to deal with the threat, it was forced to seek assistance from the U.S. military. That put the government in an untenable position: If U.S. forces stormed the shrine, Shiites would be outraged, but if they didn't, Sadr's men could drag out the confrontation for weeks.

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