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U.S. Officials, Iraqis Negotiate in Fallujah

BY Admin  April 16, 2004 at 5:00 PM EDT

Until now, U.S.-allied Iraqi leaders have been holding talks with city representatives trying to find an end to violence between guerillas and American troops.

“We are coming in here with an open mind. It is very important what we are doing. We are trying to give diplomatic negotiations a chance here,” said Marine Maj. T.V. Johnson, according to the Associated Press.

As a sign of possible progress in the talks, mosques in Fallujah called on police and Iraqi Civil Defense Corps members to report to their positions on Friday.

U.S. Marines launched an assault on Fallujah, 35 miles west of Baghdad, on April 5 after the killing and mutilation of four U.S. private security guards there the previous week. Doctors said more than 600 Iraqis have died in fighting in Fallujah since, Reuters reported.

The Marines halted the offensive for a week, and Sunni insurgents called a cease-fire on Sunday to allow talks to take place, but nightly fighting between the two sides has continued.

U.S. forces dropped a 2,000-pound bomb in the northern part of the city Friday, destroying a building where gunmen had been seen, said Marines, according to the AP.

In the South, U.S. troops clashed with Shiite guerillas near Kufa on Friday as their leader, radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, remained defiant to U.S. demands to disband his militia.

“I am ready to meet martyrdom for the sake of Iraq,” al-Sadr said at the main mosque in Kufa, wearing a white coffin cloth over his shoulders, symbolizing his willingness to die, according to the AP.

His followers rose against the U.S.-led coalition two weeks ago after the United States shut down the cleric’s newspaper, alleging it was printing false stories to incite anti-U.S. violence. An arrest warrant for al-Sadr says the cleric was involved in the assassination of a rival Shiite cleric last year.

Roughly 2,500 U.S. troops are poised outside the holy Shiite city of Najaf, where al-Sadr has been staying. Sheik Fuad al-Tarafi, a spokesman for the cleric, said negotiations that Iraqi politicians have been negotiating between the Americans and al-Sadr were close to collapse, the AP reported.

“I believe that the mediation will not continue for a long. They will reach a dead end today or tomorrow,” he said. “There are no results from these negotiations and these negotiations could collapse.”

Meanwhile, in the latest wave of abductions of civilians by insurgents, a Danish businessman was taken captive in Taji, 20 miles north of Baghdad, according to the Danish television station DR-1.

And an Arab man was taken Thursday night from his hotel room in Basra by gunmen disguised as police, according to Iraqi police official Col. Khalaf al-Maliki.

Three Czech journalists, a Syrian-Canadian aid worker, and a Chinese citizen were freed by their respective captors Friday after being held for days.

About two dozen foreigners have been abducted in the past week, many taken on roads west and south of Baghdad, where gunmen have been attacking convoys and battling U.S. troops. At least 17 remain unaccounted for, according to an AP estimate.

American experts are working to determine if four bodies found west of Baghdad are those of private U.S. contractors missing since an April 9 convoy attack.

In the north, insurgents firing mortars at a police station and U.S. base in the city of Mosul Thursday night missed their targets and killed eight Iraqis and wounded 17, said Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt on Friday. He gave no further details.