KUFA, Iraq – American and Shiite (search) militia forces agreed to withdraw from the holy cities of Najaf (search) and Kufa (search) and turn over security to Iraqi police, the governor of Najaf province said Friday.
However, hours after the withdrawal was scheduled to begin, there was no sign that fighters loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr (search) had pulled back. Fighters told The Associated Press they had not been given orders to leave but had been asked to conceal their weapons.
Also Friday, gunmen attacked a U.S. Army patrol in Baghdad near the Shiite district of Sadr City, killing American five soldiers and wounding five others, 1st Cavalry Division spokesman Lt. Col. James Hutton said.
Elsewhere, a roadside bomb hit a civilian car on the highway to Mosul in Tareimiya, 18 miles north of Baghdad. After the blast, assailants approached the car and opened fire on the men inside.
Five men, who may have been foreigners, were killed in the attack, an Iraqi security officer said on condition of anonymity. U.S. Army and Iraqi security forces were investigating, the officer said.
Najaf Gov. Adnan al-Zurufi announced the potential breakthrough, which calls for al-Sadr's militia and the Americans to remove their forces from the two cities, which contain some of the most sacred shrines in Shia Islam. The Iraqi police will assume full responsibility for security in the two cities Friday evening.
"All fighting forces, the coalition forces and the al-Mahdi Army militia, should leave the two holy cities and not allow any of their elements to enter again," al-Zurufi said.
The military agreed to move its forces to the periphery of "sensitive areas" of Najaf and Kufa while the police can move in, said Col. Brad May, commander of the U.S. 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment.
U.S. military officials insisted they had reached no deal with al-Sadr but had accepted a request by the government to reposition the U.S. troops.
May said the sensitive areas included the Imam Ali Shrine in Najaf and the Kufa mosque. Al-Zurufi promised the Americans that al-Sadr's militia had "been reduced to the point where the legitimate Iraqi security forces can move in to those very sensitive areas. It's an Iraqi solution to the problem."
Brig. Gen. Mark Hertling, deputy commander of the U.S. Army's 1st Armored Division, said the government's announcement was a "historic move."
"As the governor said, he believes he has the right amount of police," Hertling said. "U.S. troops will continue to patrol and conduct reconnaissance missions."
A statement from a negotiating team of Shiite leaders in Najaf said their "initiative succeeded after Muqtada al-Sadr ... issued orders" late Thursday on the cease-fire and "committed to them."
The uprising began in April after the U.S.-led coalition shut down al-Sadr's newspaper, arrested a top aide and announced an arrest warrant charging him with murder in the 2003 death of a moderate cleric in Najaf.
Al-Sadr failed to mention the deal in a statement read on his behalf in the mosque in Kufa, where he routinely preaches.
"America has taken upon itself to appoint a prime minister and a president of the nation under the cover of the United Nations," al-Sadr said in his message. "It has done that with impertinence and domination. The government must be elected and I will never accept anything beneath that."
He said he could not imagine "any reasonable person would ever accept" a government "which comes from no less than the occupying power."
A Shiite Muslim preacher allied with al-Sadr also had stinging words Friday for U.S. plans for Iraq, labeling Iraq's interim government American "puppets." Sheik Raad al-Kadhimi al-Saadi said a proposed U.S.-British resolution under consideration by the U.N. Security Council would cement Iraqi sovereignty in American hands.
The country's most influential Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani (search), has given a conditional endorsement to the new administration announced Tuesday by U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. Al-Sistani said the government would have to win the trust of the people by regaining genuine sovereignty, restoring security, preparing for elections by Jan. 31 and relieving the suffering of the Iraqi public.
Al-Sadr asked Friday what right Brahimi had to appoint a government and warned the United Nations to change its policy on Iraq "or we will stage protests and sit-ins against you. You do what the Americans want you to do."
Al-Sadr's condemnation of the new government was expected, and although he lacks the stature of al-Sistani, his remarks signal that the leadership will face a problem among his impoverished Shiite followers.
In Baghdad, Shiite insurgents fired mortar rounds and rocket-propelled grenades at a police station housing U.S. troops, touching off firefights early Friday that killed three Iraqis.
Helicopters and jet fighters flew over the station during the exchanges that the insurgents say came after U.S. troops tried to raid homes and arrest militiamen. A mortar round killed two militiamen and a civilian, said one al-Sadr official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
"This is the democracy George Bush brought us," a boy shouted as he displayed a blanket that was burned and tattered in the exchanges. Irate teens gathered around, including a child who showed off his handgun to TV news crews.
Also Friday, Iraqi insurgents fired mortar rounds at a multinational-force base in Hillah, but no damage or casualties were reported, said a spokesman for the Polish-led troops.
The attack came at about 1 a.m., Lt. Col. Robert Strzelecki said from the 17-nation force's headquarters in Camp Babylon.
Poland sent troops to the war to oust Saddam Hussein and commands 6,200 international troops — including 2,400 from Poland — in south-central Iraq.