Fighters loyal to al-Sadr agree to hand control of Najaf shrine
Fighters loyal to Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr on Friday removed weapons from the Imam Ali Shrine in Najaf in a bid aimed at ending the 2-week-old standoff centered on the holy site.
Iraq's highest Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, agreed to take control of the shrine, which al-Sadr's Mahdi Army turned into a stronghold.
According to The AP, one of al-Sadr aide said the keys to the shrine could be handed over later Friday to religious authorities under al-Sistani.
Sporadic gunfire and occasional blasts were heard in the city Friday evening, but far less than previous nights.
By nightfall, al-Sadr's fighters remained in control of the shrine, but they were no longer bringing their weapons inside the walled compound of the holy site, according to The AP.
No weapons were visible inside the shrine, it added.
On his part, Iraq iterim prime minister Iyad Allawi said a peaceful resolution was possible.
"We are not going to attack the mosque, we are not going to attack Muqtada al-Sadr and the mosque, evidently we are not going to do this," Allawi told BBC radio Friday. "The olive branch is still extended, he can take advantage of the olive branch."
"We don't want to appease the government. ... We want to appease the Iraqi people," an aide to al-Sadr, Ahmed al-Shaibany, said earlier Friday as he headed to al-Sistani's office in the city to discuss handing over the keys.
An aide to al-Sistani, who has been undergoing medical treatment in London, said al-Sistani agreed. "If they want to hand over the keys to the Shiite religious leadership, then the religious leadership will welcome this in order to defuse the crisis," Sheikh Hamed Khafaf said. (albawaba.com)
© 2004 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)