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Cleric softens stance in Iraq

By wire services
Published June 12, 2004

BAGHDAD - A radical cleric whose uprising two months ago has left hundreds dead and threatened to enflame the Shiite heartland said Friday he would cooperate with the new government if it works to end the U.S. military presence.

The conciliatory tone by cleric Muqtada al-Sadr came during a sermon read by an aide to a congregation in Kufa, scene of recent fighting between his al-Mahdi Army militia and U.S. forces.

In the sermon, the fiery young cleric said "I support the new interim government" and asked his followers to "help me take this society to the path of security and peace."

"Starting now, I ask you that we open a new page for Iraq and for peace," the message said.

Sadr had dismissed the interim government of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi as a tool of the Americans. But he apparently softened his stand under pressure from mainstream Shiite Muslim leaders, who negotiated a truce in Najaf and Kufa this month between the al-Mahdi Army and U.S. soldiers.

Sadr's spokesman Ahmed al-Shibani said the cleric was ready for a dialogue with the government "on condition that it works to end the occupation and clearly announces to the Iraqi people and to the world that it rejects the occupation."

"It has to put a timetable for the end of the occupation," al-Shibani said. "This is the main and principled way to recognize this government and cooperate with it."

Also Friday, gunmen blew up a police station south of Baghdad in the fourth such attack against Iraqi security installations in less than a week.

Hussein's daughter wants to return to Iraq

CAIRO, Egypt - Saddam Hussein's eldest daughter told a weekly women's magazine that her life has been full of emotional suffering and that she would go back to Iraq if she had the chance.

It was Raghad Saddam Hussein's first print interview since she and her sister, Rana, and their children sought asylum in Jordan in July.

"My life is a series of collapses," Raghad said in the interview published in Sayidaty.

The two daughters had lived private lives in Iraq and were seen by some as victims of Hussein, who ordered their husbands killed in 1996.

Asked if she misses Iraq, Raghad answered, "Yes, if I have a chance I'll go back faster than you would imagine."

Reconstruction might have damaged Babylon

BAGHDAD - The expansion of a military base might have damaged the remains of the ancient city of Babylon, and the U.S.-led coalition's leaders said Friday they have halted construction and ordered an investigation.

U.S. occupation chief L. Paul Bremer and top military commander Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez dispatched archaeologists May 27 to examine construction at the Polish military's Camp Alpha, which was set up last year to secure the ruins from looters, a coalition statement said.

The remains of Babylon, one of the world's most important archaeological sites, were occupied since the early days of the invasion by U.S. Marines and, since September, soldiers from Poland and other countries. Babylon is 50 miles south of Baghdad.

Also . . .

U.S. TROOPS: The U.S. Army's 1st Armored Division, the unit delayed from leaving Iraq when violence flared in April, is scheduled to depart by July 15, the head of U.S. military operations in Iraq, Army Lt. Gen. Thomas F. Metz, said.

FOREIGN TROOPS: South Korea plans to deploy 3,600 troops to an area around Irbil in northern Iraq by late August, a Defense Ministry official said Friday. Also, the Dutch Cabinet decided Friday to extend the stay of its 1,400 troops in Iraq for eight months to help safeguard the transfer of sovereignty and elections due next January.

[Last modified June 11, 2004, 23:46:13]

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