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Sunday, August 15, 2004

BBCNews > Iraq holy city faces new assault

The Iraqi government has pledged to resume military operations against Shia militia fighters in Najaf after discussions broke up with no agreement.
National security adviser Mouwaffaq al-Rubaie said he deeply regretted the failure of talks with supporters of the radical Shia cleric, Moqtada Sadr.
Mr Sadr said it was impossible for democracy to prevail in Iraq while US forces were besieging Najaf.
The stand-off comes as Iraq's National Conference is due to start on Sunday.
Considered as a major step towards achieving democracy in Iraq, the conference will assist in electing a 100-member national assembly.
'Bad news'
A Sadr spokesman blamed the Iraqi prime minister for the Najaf talks' failure. "It is a conspiracy to commit a big massacre," Ali Smeisim told the al-Jazeera television network.
The BBC's Matthew Price in Baghdad says this is bad news for the Iraqi government, which knows it needs to bring about a peaceful end to the violence in Najaf.
Every day the stand-off continues, Moqtada Sadr and his men gain more support across the country, our correspondent says, not only from Shia Muslims - including those who do not agree with his methods - but also from Sunnis.
Violence also flared up again in Hilla, south of Baghdad, and in the volatile "Sunni triangle" north-west of Baghdad on Saturday.
In Hilla there were fierce clashes involving Sadr supporters and local police - Iraqi officials said that three police and at least 40 militiamen were killed.
In the Sunni stronghold of Samarra, US planes carried out air strikes, killing about 50 insurgents, according to the US military. Local accounts put the number of dead at between five and 12.
In Falluja, US planes bombed several houses on Saturday, killing five civilians and wounding eight others, doctors at the Sunni city's hospital said. The US military has not commented.
This is by no means a full-scale national insurgency yet, even though the potential for chaos across Iraq certainly exists, our Baghdad correspondent says.
Shia Iraqis from outside Najaf have been arriving in the area to offer their support to Moqtada Sadr.
Government 'sorrow'
Mr Rubaie, the Iraqi national security adviser, said the talks with the cleric's followers had yielded "no positive conclusion".
"My government thought there was no use in continuing," he said, adding that he felt "deep sorrow and regret".



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