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Iraqi Shi'ite Cleric Drops Conditions For Negotiations - 2004-04-14


A radical Iraqi Shi'ite cleric has agreed to drop his conditions for negotiating an end to a stand-off with the U.S.-led coalition.

A spokesman (Qais al-Khazaali) for Moqtada al-Sadr told reporters in the holy city of Najaf, that after the intervention of Shi'ite religious authorities the cleric had decided to drop his demands, which included the withdrawal of U.S. forces from residential areas and the release of detainees.

The spokesman said Moqtada al-Sadr has chosen a delegation to negotiate on his behalf with U.S. authorities.

Coalition forces are massed around Najaf, ready to launch an offensive against the cleric's militia if it becomes necessary.

U.S commanders have said their target is not the holy city, but the cleric -- who is believed to be there -- and his armed supporters. The military says its mission is to capture or kill Moqtada al-Sadr, who has tried to incite a Shi'ite rebellion against the coalition.

Meanwhile, in the restive Iraqi city of Fallujah, fresh air strikes and sporadic exchanges of gunfire were reported today (Wednesday), despite the renewal for 48 more hours of a tenuous cease-fire.

Fallujah has been under a siege by U.S. Marines for the last 10 days.

Also today (Wednesday), the U.S. military said four more Marines were killed in action during the past two daysin areas west of Baghdad.

Information for this report is provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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