A Shiite cleric called on his followers Thursday to end clashes with Shiite rivals in order to promote stalled talks on a new constitution. However, on Thursday fighting continued for a second day after the cleric's office in Najaf was burned and four of his supporters died.
Following the appeal by cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, leaders of the country's political factions met to try to reach an agreement on the draft constitution, according to The Ap. Thursday was the final day of a 72-hour extension granted Monday night by parliament after Sunnis blocked a vote on the charter.
In calling for calm, al-Sadr urged "all believers to spare the blood of the Muslims and to return to their homes." "I will not forget this attack on the office ... but Iraq is passing through a critical and difficult period that requires unity," he told reporters in his home in Najaf.
He demanded that Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the rival Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI, to condemn "what his followers have done." SCIRI has denied any role in the attack on al-Sadr's office.
The fighting broke out Wednesday when al-Sadr's supporters tried to reopen his office across the street from the Imam Ali mosque in Najaf. Rivals tried to stop the move, fights broke out and the office was set afire.
Clashes also broke out in Amarah, where al-Sadr's followers launched mortars on the headquarters of the Badr group. Five attackers were killed, al-Sadr officials claimed.
Armed clashes broke out before dawn in Basra, the country's second largest city and the major metropolis of the south, but the city settled down after daybreak, police and residents said.
Meanwhile, the bodies of 36 men were found Thursday southeast of Baghdad on a road leading to Iran, police said. The bodies were naked and left on a road leading to Badrah, a town near the Iranian border, police Lt. Abbas al-Shammari said, according to The AP.