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Militia to disarm in Sadr City peace deal

Plan could end weeks of insurgent battles


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Soldiers from the Iraqi National Guard prepare to patrol the streets of Sadr City on Saturday.
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Details of a breakthrough peace initiative to end battles in the Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City were announced Saturday by Iraq's interim government and militia loyal to rebel cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Attacks on U.S. and Iraqi soldiers and almost daily U.S. airstrikes have been going on for weeks in the sprawling slum, which is populated by 2 million people.

Under the plan, al-Sadr's Mehdi militia will hand over medium and heavy weapons during a five-day grace period beginning on Monday.

Thousands of weapons such as rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns and mortars will be handed in at various centers controlled by police, the National Guard and City Council officials, according to Iraq's interim government.

And in the process, Iraqi security forces, backed up by U.S. forces, will take control of the area.

They would be allowed to conduct weapons searches and operations against those who oppose to the initiative.

Interim National Security Adviser Kasim Dawood called the plan a "breakthrough" deal and a "big achievement" toward consolidating national unity in Iraq.

There won't be an officially signed cease-fire, but an unofficial cessation of violence would be established and it would come soon, enabling the parties involved to usher in the weapons handover plan. During the five days, there will be a truce.

In return for the weapons handover, the interim government said, there will be ongoing amnesty arrangements for people who "have not been involved in criminality." Also, al-Sadr himself and his allies would be permitted to get involved in the country's nascent political culture.

The first big political order of business in Iraq is January's election for a transitional national assembly. U.S. and Iraqi leaders have insisted the January election will not be postponed because of the escalating insurgency.

After the weapons handover and the re-establishment of security by Iraqi forces, construction projects for the neighborhood are expected to begin and the daily U.S. airstrikes and engagements end.

Earlier, Sheikh Ali Smeisem confirmed the weapons handover. Iraqi companies will be allowed to resume normal operations within Sadr City, but foreign companies will not be allowed in at this time, he said.

In August, after three weeks of fighting in the southern city of Najaf, a truce was established between U.S.-led forces and the Mehdi army. But fighting continued to rage in Sadr City.

Deaths in Falluja airstrike

In another area of anti-U.S. insurgency -- the city of Falluja -- an American airstrike Friday killed 14 people and wounded 16 during a wedding party, according to hospital officials.

The U.S. military said its planes had targeted a terrorist safe house.

An emergency room doctor said the strike killed the groom and wounded several women and children.

The U.S.-led coalition statement had reported an airstrike at 1:15 a.m. (Thursday at 5:15 p.m. ET) on a safe house in northwest Falluja where terrorist leaders linked to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi were meeting.

The city's hospital said it received the dead and wounded from the wedding party around 2 a.m. (6 p.m. ET).

In its ongoing operations in Falluja, the U.S.-led Multinational Forces report more than a dozen airstrikes since September on Zarqawi targets.

"A large percentage of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's top leadership have been killed or captured following an intense and relentless campaign of strikes in the last month against the terrorist," the forces' report said. Iraqi officials and residents in Falluja report many of the targeted strikes have killed civilians.

British hostage killed

Also on Friday, an Arabic-language TV network said it has received a video showing the beheading of a man identified as British hostage Kenneth Bigley.

The family of Ken Bigley, the British engineer who was taken hostage in Iraq three weeks ago, said Friday that he had been killed.

"We can confirm that the family has now received absolute proof that Ken Bigley has been executed," Phil Bigley said in a televised statement. (Full story)

Bigley was kidnapped in Baghdad on September 16 with two American colleagues, Jack Hensley and Eugene "Jack" Armstrong, who were subsequently beheaded.

Other developments

  • In central Baghdad, a rocket attack hit the Sheraton Hotel on Thursday, setting off a fire and drawing machine-gun fire from U.S. positions . The lower level of the Sheraton, which houses Western journalists and foreign contractors, was damaged. There was no immediate word of casualties.
  • Task Force Baghdad troops detained a truck carrying more than 1,500 155-millimeter artillery rounds Thursday. This seizure is one of the largest by the task force to date.
  • A report on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program entered the U.S. presidential campaign, as Republicans and Democrats used its conclusions Thursday to bolster their positions on the Iraq war. (Full story)
  • CNN's Ayman Mohyeldin, Kianne Sadeq and Ingrid Formanek and Brent Sadler contributed to this report.


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