Published October 06, 2004
| Associated Press
BAGHDAD, Iraq – Followers of renegade Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have agreed to a cease-fire with Iraq's interim government aimed at ending weeks of fighting in the vast Baghdad slum of Sadr City, a mediator said Wednesday.
However, key members of the cleric's movement insisted terms of the deal had not been finalized.
The claims and counterclaims followed an announcement Tuesday by Prime Minister Ayad Allawi (search) that the basis of an agreement had been reached between his interim government and al-Sadr's followers. He provided no details.
Kareem al-Bakhatti, a pro-al-Sadr tribal elder who has been trying to bring the two sides together, said they signed an agreement that would be formally announced in city mosques Wednesday.
Under the plan, militia fighters loyal to the influential cleric would turn in their weapons in exchange for cash payments and immunity from prosecution for most of his followers, al-Bakhatti said.
Iraqi police would take over security responsibilities in Sadr City (search) and American forces would only enter the district with the approval of Iraqi authorities, he said.
However, Ali Smeiem, chief negotiator for al-Sadr's camp, insisted Wednesday that there was no agreement but that negotiations were in the "final stages" and a deal could be announced within the next two to three days.
A key member of al-Sadr's movement in Baghdad, speaking on condition of anonymity, said tribal elders presented them with a plan Tuesday night. But he said al-Sadr's followers rejected the proposal because it did not include a halt to arrests, the release of prisoners or an end to house raids.
The government did not immediately comment on the disagreement.
American and Iraqi forces have been battling al-Sadr's Mahdi Army (search) militia for weeks in the Sadr City district of northeast Baghdad, home to more than two million people.
U.S. and Iraqi authorities are trying to suppress both Shiite and Sunni insurgents to allow for national elections in January.