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Cleric’s Aide Offers Deal to End Strife in Sadr City

From Times Wire Services

A top aide to Muqtada Sadr said Thursday that militiamen loyal to the rebel cleric were willing to hand over their weapons as part of a peace initiative to end fighting in Baghdad’s Sadr City slum.

But he demanded in return that the fighters not be “persecuted” and that Sadr aides be released from U.S. custody.

The proposed deal, which interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi described to the National Council this week, requires government approval, and there was no immediate word from the government or U.S. military officials.

Such an accord could help calm violence between U.S. forces and Shiite Muslim rebels ahead of elections set for January, but there was no letup in attacks Thursday.

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Three rockets struck a Baghdad hotel housing foreign contractors and journalists. There were no deaths or serious injuries at the Ishtar Hotel (commonly called the Sheraton), but the Interior Ministry said windows were shattered and small fires were started.

The U.S. military announced the deaths of two more soldiers in separate incidents.

Staff Sgt. James L. Pettaway Jr., 37, of Baltimore died Sunday at Brooke Army Medical Center at Ft. Sam Houston, Texas, of injuries suffered Aug. 27 in a vehicle accident in Fallouja. He was assigned to the Army Reserve’s 223rd Transportation Company in Norristown, Pa.

Near Baiji, about 125 miles north of Baghdad, a 1st Infantry Division soldier was killed Wednesday in a bombing. He was not immediately identified.

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In Fallouja, residents said a rocket from a U.S. warplane struck a house, killing 10 people. The U.S. command in Baghdad said a militants’ safe house was struck at 1:15 a.m. today.

Cease-fire negotiations between the Iraqi government and city leaders in Fallouja reportedly are progressing.

The Shiite peace proposal for Sadr City was announced by Ali Sumaysim in a live broadcast on the satellite TV channel Al Arabiya.

Sumaysim said it focused on militiamen holed up in the slum, but could be extended to other “areas of tension.”

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As well as calling for the release of prisoners and for U.S. forces to back away from the militia, Sadr, via his aides, has also indicated that he wants the government to pay for damage to Sadr City.

Sumaysim’s statement came after a top Sadr cleric was freed from the Abu Ghraib prison outside the capital.

Moayad Khazraji was detained nearly a year ago along with other clerics close to Sadr. A U.S. official confirmed that Khazraji was among 230 Iraqis freed this week.


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