- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 6, 2004

BAGHDAD — A roadside bomb killed two American soldiers and wounded two in a series of attacks yesterday against coalition forces and their Iraqi allies, while tensions eased in the Shi’ite holy cities of Najaf and Kufa.

Radical Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr met in Najaf with Iraq’s most influential spiritual leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, for the first time since the anti-U.S. cleric launched an uprising against coalition forces in April, an aide to Sheik al-Sadr said.

Iraqi police extended their control in Najaf and Kufa after a deal announced Thursday to remove gunmen loyal to Sheik al-Sadr from the streets.

In the restive Sunni Muslim city of Fallujah west of Baghdad, residents reported an armed clash late yesterday. However, a coalition spokesman said no U.S. personnel were involved in any action in the city, where security is in the hands of an Iraqi unit organized with U.S. support after the Marines lifted their siege in late April.

In another development, Salah al-Zidani, brother of the informant who led U.S. forces to Saddam Hussein’s sons, was killed yesterday by gunmen in the northern city of Mosul, witnesses and hospital officials said.

U.S. officials have not publicly confirmed who turned in Uday and Qusai Hussein, but many people in Mosul have identified him as Nawaf al-Zidani, who collected the $30 million reward — $15 million for each son. Nawaf al-Zidani has not been seen since Saddam’s sons were killed in July.

The roadside bombing, which occurred in eastern Baghdad, was the second fatal attack against American troops in the capital in as many days. Five U.S. soldiers were killed and five wounded Friday in an ambush near the Shi’ite neighborhood of Sadr City, an al-Sadr stronghold.

Elsewhere in Sadr City, Sheik al-Sadr’s militiamen attacked an Iraqi police station and American soldiers guarding the building returned fire, wounding at least one militiamen, witnesses said.

Assailants also ambushed two civilian sport utility vehicles, favored by Western civilian contractors, on the road to Baghdad’s international airport. An Iraqi Interior Ministry official said two or three persons were killed.

Another civilian car carrying Westerners was attacked in Mosul. Police said one civilian was killed and three injured, but they refused to identify them by nationality.

A rocket-propelled grenade also hit an Iraqi army recruiting center in Mosul, wounding 17 persons, according to hospital officials and police.

Sheik al-Sadr briefed Ayatollah al-Sistani on the plan announced Thursday to pull back Shi’ite militiamen and U.S. forces from Shi’ite Islam’s holiest shrines, said Ahmed al-Shibani, a representative of Sheik al-Sadr’s office.

“Al-Sistani has thanked [al-Sadr] for his efforts … to peacefully resolve this crisis,” Mr. al-Shibani said. “The agreement is moving toward success and is on the right path.”

The 30-year-old Sheik al-Sadr has been eager to win the support of Ayatollah al-Sistani — an older, more moderate cleric who commands broad respect among Iraq’s Shi’ites. The ayatollah for his part has been eager to avoid a U.S. assault on Najaf and to prevent internal rifts among the Shi’ite majority, which is hoping to take power in national elections in January.

The session in Ayatollah al-Sistani’s office lasted about 10 minutes, his guards said.

By midday yesterday, Sheik al-Sadr’s fighters remained at the most sensitive religious sites, but were no longer brandishing weapons, an aide to the cleric said. Iraqi police were seen taking up positions in the city, but were avoiding the area around the shrine.

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