Friday, August 20
Police 'take control of Najaf mosque'
Guardian, August 20, 2004

Agency Reports--Iraqi police were today believed to have taken control of the Najaf mosque that served as the nervecentre of the radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's rebellion against the country's interim government.

An initial statement from the information ministry said Iraqi police had entered the Imam Ali mosque, one of the most revered sites in Shia Islam, to find that Mr Sadr and his militia fighters had left.

Later reports suggested 400 members of the cleric's Mahdi army militia were arrested.

If confirmed, the takeover of the mosque would suggest that Mr Sadr's two-week rebellion was either over or approaching its end, but Reuters reported there was still fighting outside the site.

Haidar Salahuddine, a cameraman for the news agency, said gun battles were blocking his route to the mosque. "Fighting is continuing near the Imam Ali mosque. We can't approach the shrine because of the clashes," he said.

The Guardian correspondent Luke Harding, in Najaf, earlier expressed scepticism that the fighting would end with any peace deal. "The problem is that the old city is totally under Mahdi army control, and is heavily boobytrapped," he said.

At least 77 Iraqis have been killed and 70 wounded during fighting in Najaf over the past 24 hours, according to Iraq's health ministry.

US warplanes this morning pounded the Shia rebels after Mr Sadr rejected a final order from the interim Iraqi prime minister, Ayad Allawi, for him to leave the mosque and disarm.
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