Influential Cleric Backs New Iraqi Government
One of those tasks, he said, was to "provide security in all parts of the country and end all organized crimes and other criminal acts." That was seen as an indirect condemnation of the violent insurgency that has arisen in recent months against U.S. occupation troops, including resistance by another Shiite cleric, Moqtada Sadr, and his militia, known as the Mahdi Army
Sadr's militia clashed with U.S. soldiers for two hours at dawn Thursday near the main mosque in Kufa, which adjoins Najaf and its Shiite shrines. The fighting was more evidence that a week-old truce between Sadr and U.S. forces has collapsed.
The fighting killed five civilians and wounded 15, according to officials at Furat Awsat hospital in Kufa. CNN, which has a reporter with the U.S. troops, said two U.S. soldiers were slightly wounded. There was no word on militiamen killed or wounded.
Sadr's forces, which took over Najaf and Kufa two months ago, were supposed to withdraw from the streets as their part of a cease-fire accord. In exchange, U.S. forces were to limit their presence in sensitive areas surrounding Shiite shrines to joint patrols with Iraqi police. Each side has accused the other of violating the agreement.
It was unclear what effect Sistani's declaration would have on Sadr's ability to maintain support for his stand against U.S. forces. Many Najaf residents have expressed anger at the trouble he has brought their city. But the young cleric, son of a renowned Shiite leader, has his own following among the young and the poor, who may not welcome the establishment views voiced by Sistani.
The insurgency continued elsewhere as well. Several mortar rounds fell near the Italian Embassy in Baghdad, killing one Iraqi and injuring several, police told reporters. The Italian Foreign Ministry said no one inside was hurt.
The U.S. military reported, meanwhile, that a mortar round started a fire Wednesday night at a U.S. base near Kirkuk, in the Kurdish zone of northern Iraq. The blaze spread to an ammunition dump, setting off explosions and forcing evacuation of a nearby detention facility, an announcement said.
Special correspondents Bassam Sabti in Baghdad and Saad Sarhan in Najaf contributed to this report.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Iraq's interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, left, and his deputy, Barham Salih, attend a news conference in Baghdad.
(Pool Photo Via Reuters)