Thousands of peaceful Shiite Muslims on Friday reclaimed the Imam Ali mosque from militants loyal to maverick cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who called on his followers to lay down their arms. But while al-Sadr's voice echoed from the mosque's speakers, and some militiamen were seen turning in their guns, the nascent peace deal could spell more trouble for the new Iraqi government and U.S. military. After brokering an agreement to end the Najaf uprising, Iranian-born Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has become the most powerful man in Iraq. Al-Sistani, 73, has consolidated power in an area he wants to turn into a Shiite state within a state, with the sacred Imam Ali Shrine at its center. With Iraq's national elections just a few months away in January, al-Sistani has positioned himself as a kingmaker, who acts independently of the new Iraqi government and the U.S. military. Al-Sistani, who commands the loyalty of millions of Shiites and supports a democratic Iraq, is considered a moderate. Nonetheless, his unchecked influence is troublesome, informs MSNBC. According to Scotsman, some have shed their black combat gear for civilian clothes and are ready to go back to their jobs as fish vendors, butchers and engineers after three weeks of battles with United States forces in Najaf. But the Shiite militants who say they will respect a peace deal that demands they lay down their weapons are already primed for the next battle. All it will take to get them into holy warrior mode again is a word from their firebrand leader Muqtada al-Sadr, an unpredictable cleric who mesmerises them with anti-US slogans. Sadr, whose al-Mahdi army challenged US military firepower from alleyways and an ancient cemetery, reached a peace agreement with US and Iraqi forces that was brokered by the moderate cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. The pact agreed on Thursday allowed tens of thousands of Shiite pilgrims to return yesterday to the Imam Ali shrine, where Sadr’s militants and supporters have been holed up. Spent ammunition littered the city centre, which a day earlier had been infested with snipers. Many pilgrims were overcome at the mosque. Some kissed the ornate walls inside and wept after they queued to get in. "We pray today that Najaf will recover. The military operations have only brought destruction," said Kassem Hameed, a 52-year-old oil worker from the southern city of Basra. Some residents of the devastated neighbourhood waved to the pilgrims and yelled out: "Welcome, welcome." Militants handed over the keys to the shrine to representatives of Iraq’s top Shiite cleric - a symbolic, yet crucial, step in ending the bloody crisis that plagued this city since 5 August. A ceasefire appears to be taking hold in Iraq's holy city of Najaf, but the U.S. military isn't taking any chances. A U.S. defense official said the American forces are wary of such truces, since the radical militia has used previous breaks in fighting to regroup and rearm.
Dozens of militants loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr left the city's sacred Imam Ali Shrine on Friday, handing the key to Iraq's most respected Shiite leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. But a Marine spokeswoman said U.S. forces are keeping their positions "until further notice" to ensure the truce holds. She added that the Americans are remaining in the city at the request of the Iraqi government. The peace comes after the militants had holed up in the shrine for weeks, using it as a base to attack American forces. There were fears the shrine could fall victim to the fighting. Al-Sadr issued the order to disarm from his office in Najaf. Militants piled their Kalashnikov rifles in front of his office. However, it's believed that thousands of al-Sadr's followers are still armed in Najaf, reports WXII12.
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