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NAJAF, Iraq (CNN) -- Armed militia loyal to Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr ignored Iraqi government orders to disarm and leave the Imam Ali Mosque on Thursday as the nation's interim prime minister issued a final call for them to comply.
With U.S. and Iraqi forces surrounding the mosque, CNN producer Kianne Sadeq was allowed inside and later spoke with CNN correspondent John Vause about what she saw.
SADEQ: I just came out of the mosque. When we went in there, it was actually very fearsome. We drove in very carefully with a group of journalists in about a 10-car convoy.
Now, the entire street, about 100 to 150 meters [109 to 164 yards] leading up to the Imam Ali Mosque is completely destroyed. All the shops. I mean, it's completely destroyed.
Windows are shattered. The pillars are broken. Stores are shut.
It is just a ghost land. All there is now is a large group of Mehdi Army, which occupies that area. And just before you get there, there are American tanks.
So we walked in, and once we walked into the mosque, we were cheered on, we were very well received by members of the Mehdi Army. ... They were cheering and chanting about everything they were doing. They were very proud to be in there and had absolutely no intentions of leaving.
There were some women in there. Of course, a very few, maybe five or six. But there were some women in there. In fact, there were some children in there.
We also saw medical help. There seemed to be some supplies for medical support in that mosque, and some people dressed in smocks that seemed to be doctors. I'm not sure if they were, but they seemed to be doctors there to care for the injured.
We were given an opportunity to walk inside. There's a large room where they sit ... for Muqtada al-Sadr. We did not see Muqtada al-Sadr. We do not know if he is in there or not, even though we were told that he is in fact not in there.
While you're in the mosque, you hear constant firing, rocket-propelled grenade fire, mortar fire. I mean, I'm not exactly sure about this, but all different kinds of loud firing constantly going on. It does not stop. ... It keeps going on and on and on and on.
The mosque seems to be OK, just some minor damage to the two pillars in the mosque. Minor damage, but nothing serious to the mosque. Everything outside of the mosque seems to be totaled.
VAUSE: What can you tell us about the movement of U.S. forces, the position of snipers around the mosque and the tanks and the U.S. Marines currently deployed in Najaf?
SADEQ: As a matter of fact, we arrived here yesterday sometime in the afternoon. And around 4 or 5 in the evening, we attempted to go to the mosque, and there was an extreme amount of sniper fire. Extreme amount of sniper fire seems to be coming from both sides -- from the American side as well as the Iraqi side. And it's a very dangerous area to go through, because it seems like these people are not seeing who's coming by.
We were told by some people in the neighborhood that in fact there was a dead body that had been in its position for about three days and they could not move it out of the way because they could not risk going into that street and to take that body away because of the amount of sniper fire. We heard many, many shots.
We tried to go there again this morning, and once again we were stopped by a large amount of sniper fire. And it's just too dangerous to either walk or go in vehicles, because you don't know where these bullets are flying.
We ended up going in there by the help of actually every side. We were helped by the governor's office as well as by the U.S. military.
They surrounded the outskirts of the mosque with their tanks. And you have to get by them. But once you're by them, you also have to get by the Mehdi Army before you can get into the mosque.
So there's a ring around the mosque of U.S. military. Just after you get past that, there's about 100 to 150 meters [109 yards to 164 yards] of Mehdi Army militia just hiding around in the streets leading to the mosque. And you have to be able to get by both. We were lucky enough to get by both groups. And we were led into the mosque. And we were in fact helped by both sides to leave the mosque.
We were told that we must leave the mosque, even if we wanted to stay. They were going to assist us out of the mosque because they felt that it would be too dangerous for us to stay there any longer. So they made us all leave, and we all ended up leaving in a convoy together. And everybody is safe.
VAUSE: While you were inside that mosque, you had a chance to speak with one of Muqtada al-Sadr's senior aides. He said that Muqtada al-Sadr, the cleric, is not inside the mosque. They did not tell you where he is. But did he give you a reason why Muqtada al-Sadr is refusing to negotiate on this ultimatum, this ultimatum that was delivered by the minister of state a few hours ago?
SADEQ: His aides said that in fact Muqtada al-Sadr did want to negotiate with this delegation from the Iraqi National Conference, and the reason why he did not was because the attacks and the loud sounds of explosions outside the mosque were far too many.
He also said that today that they are not going to respond to this request by the government, by the minister of state who gave pressure over here. He said, "We will not respond to this because we are not negotiating with these people."
He said, "We are negotiating with the National Conference. So if they want to negotiate with us, we want to negotiate with them."
This minister of state does not have anything to do with the Iraqi National Conference, the 1,000-member conference met this week to choose a 100-person interim body that will advise and oversee the newly installed Iraqi interim government.