BAGHDAD Ñ The U.S. military has agreed to withdraw from two Shi'ite
cities in an effort to avoid a full-scale battle with the Iranian-backed
U.S. officials said U.S. and coalition forces agreed to pull out of Kufa
and Najaf as part of an arrangement reached between local Shi'ite clerics
and Mahdi Army chief Moqtada Sadr. The officials said the U.S. withdrawal
would be immediate and followed by an eventual pullout by Sadr's forces.
This was the second arrangement reached between the U.S. military and
Iraqi insurgents meant to ensure coalition withdrawal from an
Iraqi city. Earlier this month, U.S. forces pulled out of the
city of Faluja for an agreement that allowed for the entry of an Iraqi
force commanded by a former Saddam general.
But hours after the Shi'ite arrangement was announced, Mahdi Army troops
declared victory and said
they would not leave Najaf. By Friday, U.S. troops and Mahdi Army combatants
resumed fighting in
the city, Middle East Newsline reported. There were no reports of casualties.
Iraqi National Security Adviser Mowaffak Rubaie said the Mahdi Army did
not agree to a complete withdrawal from Najaf. Rubaie said Sadr said only
militia members who were not residents of Najaf would leave the city. In his
letter to Shi'ite clerics, Sadr was also said to have pledged that the Mahdi
Army would end
street patrols and evacuate government buildings.
Officials described the U.S. withdrawal as part of a temporary
arrangement. They said the Mahdi Army sustained heavy losses in combat with
the U.S.-led coalition, with more than 100 Shi'ite fighters being killed
over the past week.
"What we're hoping to see in a very short period of time is Iraqi police
through, Iraqi policemen on the corners of the city, Iraqi police buildings
back in operation, the governor being able to talk about how to take Najaf
forward," Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy director of coalition operations,
Officials said the U.S.-led coalition force agreed to halt offensive
operations in Kufa and Najaf. Instead, Iraqi security forces would patrol
the cities while U.S. troops and their allies would assume positions nearby.
"As soon as the Iraqi security forces have assumed responsibility for
public security and re-established law and order, coalition forces will
reposition to their bases outside Najaf [and Kufa] while maintaining
protective units at the CPA offices and the government building and Iraqi
police stations," Coalition Provisional Authority senior adviser Dan Senor
Officials said Sadr was not given a deadline to complete the withdrawal
of his forces. In April, Sadr led the Shi'ite revolt by his Mahdi Army
against coalition forces throughout central and southern Iraq. The revolt
resulted in the defection and collapse of numerous Iraqi police and security
Officials said the military and CPA would not immediately pursue plans
to prosecute Sadr and disband his militia. Instead, they said, the two U.S.
demands would be discussed between Sadr and Shi'ite clerics. Sadr has been
accused of ordering the killing of a leading Shi'ite cleric in April 2003.
"We have not altered our position with regard to the need to dissolve
and disarm Moqtada's militia throughout Iraq or with Moqtada Al Sadr's
obligation to meet the requirements of the arrest warrant issued to him,"
Senor said. "Throughout the process, coalition forces will retain the
inherent right of self-defense."