Sistani Calls for Shiites to Stay Away From Najaf
U.S. forces have pursued them, risking damage to the shrines in doing so. So far, Shiite religious leaders who want Sadr removed have complained little about the American tactics. Iran, whose population consists almost entirely Shiite Muslims, called on Shiites worldwide to condemn the move.
U.S. officials had hoped that Shiite leaders could persuade Sadr to abandon his rebellion, give himself up either to U.S. forces or religious leaders, disband the militia and face charges for the murder of Abdel-Majid Khoei, the moderate cleric murdered in April 2003 after returning to Iraq from exile in Britain.
Talks between Sadr and Shiite mediators have broken down over terms that would have put Sadr in their hands rather than the Americans'. Without specifying the exact cause, Shiite officials are blaming the United States.
"The Americans have added a condition," said Hamid Bayati, a spokesman for the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which wants Sadr out of Najaf.
U.S. military officials have characterized Sadr's rebellion as "minor," but it is tying up forces in Karbala and Najaf that were stationed elsewhere.
Spanish forces were supposed to maintain security in both cities, but they have withdrawn from Iraq. The continued fighting undermines hopes expressed by Iraqi, U.S. and United Nations officials that next month's transfer of limited authority will take place in an atmosphere of relative calm.
The chronic violence has exasperated Najaf residents. "From the first day of the crisis, our business stopped. We depend on tourists and now there are none," said Hadi Basheer, 50, a souvenir peddler.
Taxi driver Ali Hussein, 28, accused Sadr's militia of harboring sympathizers of ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and common criminals.
"I want the Americans to solve this, because the Mahdi Army is growing in power," he said.
Special correspondent Saad Sarhan contributed to this report from Najaf.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company