Iraq's leading Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Husseini al-Sistani, reached an apparent agreement with the radical cleric Muqtada Sadr yesterday to end a three-week uprising by Sadr's Army of Mehdi militiamen in Najaf. But the rebel cleric will remain a free man, Kasim Daoud, a Minister of State, said early this morning. He also said US-led forces would withdraw as soon as Iyad Allawi, the interim Prime Minister, ordered them to. The breakthrough came after a day of bloody violence in Najaf. At least 60 people were killed in three separate incidents as Iraq's most revered Shia cleric arrived in the holy city under heavy guard in a last-ditch attempt to end the fighting. United States forces suspended their military offensive against the Mehdi Army for 24 hours from 3pm to maximise the chances of the peace talks achieving a settlement. Representatives of all sides were optimistic of a positive outcome, informs Independent. Police in the city last night said a deal had been done. And later, Sayyid Murtadha al-Kashmiri, a representative for Ayatollah Sistani in London who had been in contact with the Najaf office, said: "An agreement has been reached, but it hasn't been announced." According to CBC News, militant leader Muqtada al-Sadr agreed on Thursday to a peace plan presented by Iraq's most revered Shia cleric, who rode into Najaf hours earlier to try to end the bloody three-week uprising. An aide to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani said the cleric made the deal after speaking directly with al-Sadr, whose battles with U.S.-Iraqi forces since Aug. 5 have left hundreds dead. The aide, Hamed al-Khafaf, said al-Sadr agreed to almost the entire plan. Twice before, Al-Sadr has agreed to peace deals that have later fallen apart. This time Iraqi and U.S. forces seem more hopeful that al-Sistani's influence may end the uprising. Iraq's most revered Shi'ite leader persuaded a rebel cleric Thursday to accept a deal ending a three-week uprising in Najaf, after returning to the holy city amid bloody clashes that killed at least 74 people. Iraq's government said it had also agreed to the deal brokered by Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, under which radical Shi'ite militiamen would leave the sacred Imam Ali shrine in Najaf and U.S. forces would also pull out of the city. "We are three-quarters toward the end of this crisis," said Hamed al-Khafaf, senior aide to Sistani who entered Najaf in a huge convoy of vehicles earlier Thursday for talks with radical rival Moqtada al-Sadr. He said Sadr, whose fighters have been holed up in the Imam Ali mosque and battling U.S. and Iraqi forces in the alleys outside, agreed to all points of Sistani's peace plan to end fighting that has killed hundreds, driven oil prices to record highs and undermined Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's authority. The plan involves Sadr's Mehdi Army militiamen leaving the sacred Imam Ali shrine by 10 a.m. (0600 GMT) Friday. U.S. forces are also to leave Najaf, with security being turned over to Iraqi police. Najaf is to be declared a weapons-free zone, and the government is to compensate victims of the fighting, reports Reuters.
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