An eight-member team of Iraqi political and religious leaders flew to Najaf on Tuesday by a US military helicopter in a bid to end a bloody Shiite uprising there, delegates said.
The delegation, headed by US ally Sheikh Hussein al-Sadr, hopes to meet radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to relay a call from a national conference to disarm his militia and leave a holy shrine, informs Xinhua News.
Earlier, dozens of delegates who were supposed to travel to Najaf by road delayed their trip out of security concerns.
The latest delegation to Najaf will try to seek a peaceful end to the fierce fighting in the city between Sadr's Mehdi Army and US-backed Iraqi forces.
On Monday, the Iraqi national conference decided to send a delegation carrying an initiative to Sadr, urging him to withdraw his fighters from the holy city and turn his Mehdi Army into a political group.
Bloomberg specifies that an Iraqi delegation trying to end a standoff between followers of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and U.S. troops in the city of Najaf failed to meet with the cleric on Tuesday, the Associated Press reported.
The eight-member delegation of the Iraqi National Conference was kept waiting for three hours at the Imam Ali Mosque, where al- Sadr's fighters are holed up, and delivered a peace proposal to aides of the cleric, AP said.
Al-Sadr didn't meet with the delegation because of "heavy shelling" by U.S. planes and tanks, AP reported, citing Ahmed al- Shaibani, a spokesman for the cleric.
The delegation would return Wednesday to meet with al-Sadr, AP reported, citing al-Shaibani. Rajah Khozi, one of the delegates, said the group might return to Najaf Wednesday or Thursday and that there were no immediate plans for such a trip, AP reported.
The delegation leader, Sheikh Hussein al-Sadr, a relative of the radical cleric, stressed that the delegation had no powers to broker a deal, informs Telegrath. "This is not a negotiation. This is a friendly mission to convey the message of the national conference," he said.
Sadr aides have already signalled their unwillingness to compromise. But Najaf's police chief, Ghaleb al-Jazairi, was even more contemptuous of the peace efforts. He ordered the insurgents to surrender, disarm and leave Najaf.
"We'll never stop fighting them, even if there are any negotiations, until they leave the city unarmed," he said. "If they refuse to surrender their guns and leave, we will have to storm the place and kill them all. We want to win the battle and end the bloodshed as quickly as possible."
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