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Al-Sadr 'calls for Iraqi truce'


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A man passes a Najaf building destroyed during a standoff between U.S. army and Mehdi army militia.
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Muqtada al-Sadr

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A top aide for Muqtada al-Sadr has said the maverick Shiite cleric "has called for a cease-fire by the Mehdi Army in all provinces of Iraq unless it is in the case of self-defense."

Sayid Hazem Al-Arajy also said that al-Sadr is waiting for the right time to announce any involvement in the nation's political process.

However, a U.S. spokesman in Iraq said he was unaware of the cease-fire call.

"We've heard nothing about this," said Brig. Gen. Erv Lessel, the deputy director of operations for the Multi-National Forces, when asked about the cease-fire report.

Lessel expressed some skepticism at the report, indicating that al-Sadr "has to initiate" this, and "he hasn't shown it yet."

Al-Sadr's Mehdi Army militia fought U.S. and Iraqi forces around the Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf for three weeks.

A peace deal was negotiated last week with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani that would grant al-Sadr his freedom from murder charges in a bid to secure peace in war-torn Najaf.

Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi said that al-Sistani "came in the right moment because he ultimately succeeded in putting the final pressure on Muqtada al-Sadr and the militias to do whatever was necessary to implement the conditions of the government."

Meanwhile, an attack on Iraq's main southern pipeline has seriously hampered critical oil exports in the struggling country, Iraqi officials say.

The attack took place on Sunday, officials said, and repairs will take about a week.

Such attacks, Allawi said in an exclusive interview with CNN's Walter Rodgers on Monday, were "hurting Iraq quite badly."

"The revenues, the oil prices have increased dramatically, and this is causing great loss for the Iraq people in terms of revenues which could be used for the reconstruction of the country, and to pay the people and get the economy cycle back again," he said.

"Unfortunately this is not happening yet because of the sabotage that is happening all the time by terrorists."

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Workers at the scene of a fire at al-Radgha, about 30 miles southwest of Basra.

Attacks on the oil lines -- and the continuing insurgency -- Allawi said, were "a sign of a determined enemy to wreck Iraq and to wreck the political process in Iraq and to undermine Iraq in order to undermine the whole region and shake the peace of the world.

"This is how we see things in Iraq," he said.

But Allawi said those carrying out the attacks "are outlaws or terrorists ... who do not represent the sentiments of the people of the towns."

Allawi said those people include the residents of Fallujah -- where insurgents remain in control -- and Najaf.

"We wanted the militias to unarm and to leave Najaf and the shrines and Kufa and this is what they have done," he said.

The prime minister added that his government would track down any other militias still active in Iraq "until they will bring them to justice or they throw (down) their arms and make use of the amnesty."

He said some were "lawless, criminal people" and others were non-Iraqis -- "in the range of three to five thousand," he said. "We have arrested a lot of them."

Other developments

  • Two French journalists kidnapped in Iraq have pleaded for Paris to meet their captors' demands and reverse a ban on Muslim headscarves for girls in public schools. (Full story)
  • Mortars exploded early Monday in an uninhabited section of eastern Baghdad. According to Col. Adnan Abdul Rahman with Iraq's Interior Ministry, insurgents fired three mortar rounds between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. which landed near Mohammed al-Kasim Street. Rahman said it was not clear who or what was being targeted.
  • Turkish hostages Ali Daskin and Abdullah Ozdemir, who had been held captive in Iraq, were released Sunday after the companies they work for, Usluel and SA-RA, began pulling out of Iraq on Thursday. A group calling itself Mujahid Imam Brigades issued a video Wednesday showing the two hostages holding their passports and kneeling in front of masked militants.

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