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Iraqi Official: Radical Cleric Offers Truce in Najaf - 2004-05-27


A top Iraqi official says radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has offered to pull his fighters out of the holy city of Najaf to end a bloody standoff with U.S. forces.

Iraq's national security adviser Mowaffaq al-Rubaie said today (Thursday) the cleric was willing to withdraw members of his (Mehdi Army) militia who are not from Najaf, if coalition forces pull back to their bases and allow Iraqi police to patrol the city.

Quoting a statement signed by Moqtada al-Sadr, the Iraqi official said the cleric also called for negotiations with Iraq's Shi'ite leaders on the future of the militia, which the U-S military says must disband.

Earlier, a key aide to the radical cleric was captured by U.S. forces.

A U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, told reporters Wednesday that Riyad al-Nouri -- a relative of Moqtada al-Sadr --will be handed over to Iraqi authorities to stand trial for alleged involvement in the killing last year of a rival Shi'ite cleric (Abdul Majid al-Khoei).

Moqtada al-Sadr is also wanted in connection with that murder.

Meanwhile, three U.S. Marines were killed Wednesday in the western Iraqi province of Al Anbar. A U.S. military statement said the Marines were killed while "conducting security and stability operations" in the region, but gave no further details.

In another development, the U.S. -led coalition announced the formation of a new task force to compensate Iraqis who were victims of Saddam Hussein's regime. The president of the Iraqi Bar Association (Malik al-Hassan) has been picked to head up the effort which has start-up funding of 25 million dollars.

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

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