Friday, April 16, 2004

Great headlines of our time: "Fighting erupts as U.S., Iraqis start dialogue" 

We really expect better of the Canadians.

Explosions shook a riverbank as U.S. soldiers battled Shiite militiamen outside the southern city of Kufa today. The fighting came as the U.S. military held its first direct negotiations in an attempt to end fighting in Falluja.

The military said U.S. soldiers fought back after they were attacked by supporters of radical cleric near Kufa, which neighbours the holy city of Najaf. Some 2,500 U.S. soldiers are deployed outside Najaf to kill or capture al-Sadr and dismantle his al-Mahdi army militia.

Large explosions were seen by the river in a sparsely populated area on the edge of Kufa. Five civilians caught in the crossfire were killed and 14 wounded, hospital officials said.

In Falluja, west of Baghdad, U.S. military and civilian officials met today with leaders from Falluja, the first known direct negotiations involving Americans since the siege of the city began April 5.

Until now, U.S.-allied Iraqi leaders have been holding talks with city representatives trying to find an end to fighting that has killed dozens of U.S. soldiers and hundreds of Iraqis.

Both countries want to avoid a U.S. attack on Najaf, site of the holiest Shiite site — the Imam Ali Shrine, near the office where al-Sadr is located, surrounded by armed gunmen.

Shiite Governing Council member Ibrahim al-Jaafari said he saw "flexibility from al-Sadr's side" and urged Americans to show "similar flexibility."

Top U.S. administrator Paul Bremer was involved in "multiple channels" to try to negotiate an end to the standoff in the south and in Falluja, said Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

But Myers warned there was a limit as to how long the marines can wait. "At some point somebody has to make a decision on what we're going to do, and we certainly can't rule out the use of force there again," he said.

U.S. commanders have vowed to "kill or capture" al-Sadr, but have limited their actions to small skirmishes on the outskirts of the city.

Maj. Neal O'Brien said the units at Najaf "will not complete this operation" and will likely be replaced by other troops — a rotation that suggests that an assault on the city is not imminent.

Negotiations appeared focused on dissolving al-Sadr's al-Mahdi army militia — a demand he has refused — and how to deal with al-Sadr himself. He has been charged with involvement in the assassination last year of a rival Shiite cleric.
(via Toronto Star)

I don't get what's to negotiate about: The CPA wants to kill Sadr and destroy his militia, and Sadr doesn't want that. So how do we make a deal?

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