- The Washington Times - Monday, August 30, 2004

BAGHDAD — Rebel Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called on his followers across Iraq to stop fighting against U.S. and Iraqi forces and is planning to join the political process in the coming days, an al-Sadr aide said yesterday.

Iraqi oil exports came to a halt after a rash of attacks on the country’s petroleum infrastructure, the country’s main source of income, senior oil company officials and the governor of the southern province of Basra said.

The announcement by Sheik al-Sadr came as his aides were trying to negotiate an end to fighting in the Baghdad slum of Sadr City and in the southern city of Basra, where clashes have continued even after a peace deal was reached in Najaf.

Sheik al-Sadr also called for U.S. and Iraqi forces to withdraw from the center of Iraqi cities, Sheik Ali Smeisim said. However, that did not appear to be a condition of the unilateral cease-fire.

“I call on the interim Iraqi government to have patience … and to pull back the American and Iraqi forces from the center of Iraqi cities,” Sheik Smeisim said, speaking on behalf of Sheik al-Sadr.

“At the same time, I call on the forces of the Mahdi’s Army [militia] to … stop firing until the announcement of the political program adopted by the Sadrist movement.”

When asked whether the cease-fire would take effect immediately, he said, “I hope so.”

The announcement could provide a boost to the government of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. Sheik al-Sadr fiercely has opposed the U.S. presence in Iraq and denounced Mr. Allawi’s government as dependent on the Americans.

But if he decides to join the political realm, it would suggest Sheik al-Sadr’s acceptance of the U.S.-backed process scheduled to lead to elections in January.

Mr. Allawi also has demanded that Sheik al-Sadr disband his Mahdi’s Army militia, but the aides did not say whether the cleric was considering doing so. The militia has emerged intact from the weeks of fighting with U.S. forces, and Sheik al-Sadr has gained popularity among some sectors of Shi’ites, particularly the poor.

“This latest initiative shows that we want stability and security in this country by ending all confrontation in all parts of Iraq,” said Sheik Raed al-Khadami, Sheik al-Sadr’s spokesman in Baghdad. “Al-Sadr’s office in Najaf will call within the next two days to join the political process.”

Sheik al-Sadr visited the Imam Ali shrine in the city of Najaf for the first time since his militia left the site on Friday after using it as a stronghold and refuge during the weeks of fighting with the Americans.

Sheik al-Sadr asked religious authorities for permission to enter the shrine and made a brief visit yesterday, according to the office of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, Iraq’s top Shi’ite cleric.

Meanwhile yesterday, the U.S. Army said a roadside bomb hit a U.S. military convoy on a road near the northern city of Mosul on Sunday, killing one American soldier and wounding two others.

As of Friday, 968 U.S. service members have died since the beginning of military operations in Iraq in March 2003, according to the Defense Department.

Oil exports, which have been falling for days because of a string of insurgent attacks, came to a complete stop from southern pipelines, which account for 90 percent of Iraq’s exports, after an explosion on Sunday.

Two senior officials of the South Oil Co. said yesterday the southern lines were not likely to resume operations for at least a week. Iraq’s other export avenue, a northern pipeline to the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan, also carried no oil yesterday, according to an oil official in Ceyhan.

Basra Gov. Hassan al-Rashid said the country was losing $70 million a day because of the attacks on pipelines and oil fields.


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