Iraqi Leaders Meet in Peace Effort


Associated Press

7:07 AM PDT, August 29, 2004

BAGHDAD, Iraq — Iraqi tribal leaders, Shiite politicians, government officials and U.S. military officers agreed Sunday to a one-day truce for peace talks to end violence in the Baghdad's Sadr City slum, a day after 10 people died in fighting there, Iraqi officials said.

Meanwhile, violence continued in other areas of the country Sunday. Clashes between U.S. forces and insurgents in the northern city of Mosul left two dead and 34 injured, according to the U.S. military. Saboteurs in southern Iraq blew up a cluster of oil export pipelines, further reducing exports vital to Iraqi reconstruction.

The new oil attack -- at least the third significant sabotage of oil pipelines in four days -- shrunk exports from southern Iraq to 500,000 barrels a day, less than a third of the normal average, an official with the South Oil company said.

Sadr City, a sprawling Shiite district of eastern Baghdad, has been the scene of repeated clashes between militiamen loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and U.S. forces i n the 16 months since the fall of Saddam Hussein, but the violence intensified in recent weeks as fighting in Najaf that erupted Aug. 5 spread to Shiite communities across the country.

Despite the apparent resolution of the Najaf crisis on Friday, the fighting continued in Baghdad, as al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militiamen, armed with rifles and mortars, fought with U.S. forces.

Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi blamed the continuing violence on renegade al-Sadr followers who do not want to honor the peace deal the cleric agreed to in Najaf.

"I believe there are some people who are disobeying Muqtada al-Sadr's orders" to stop fighting, he told Al-Iraqiyah television on Saturday.

On Sunday, the head of the tribal negotiating team, Naim al-Bakhati, told reporters that all sides had agreed that damaged areas in Sadr City be rebuilt, U.S. troops withdraw from the area except for normal patrols and that Iraqi police be allowed to enter the slum.

But, "there was no agreement on the Mahdi Army handing over their weapons," al-Bakhati said, adding that talks would resume in the afternoon to try to resolve that matter.

All sides agreed to observe a one-day truce until Monday morning to give the Iraqi government time to discuss the results of the meeting, said Col. Maarouf Moussa Omran, Sadr City's police chief.

Youssef al-Nassiri, an official with al-Sadr's group, said they will meet with Iraqi government officials later Sunday. He did not elaborate.

Sadr City remained relatively peaceful Sunday as the talks continued. The fighting Saturday killed 10 people and wounded 126, said Saad al-Amili, a Health Ministry official.

Meanwhile, France scrambled to respond to the kidnapping of two French journalists by Islamic militants in Iraq, who demanded Paris overturn a ban on students wearing Islamic head scarfs in public schools. That ban goes into effect Wednesday.

Al-Jazeera television showed a video Saturday from a group calling itself the Islamic Army i n Iraq purportedly showing Christian Chesnot of Radio France-Internationale, or RFI, and Georges Malbrunot of Le Figaro newspaper and RTL radio. The men had not been in touch with their employers since Aug. 19, the French Foreign Ministry said last week.

In the video, one of the men said in broken Arabic, "We are being held by the Islamic Army in Iraq." The second hostage spoke French and said they were being treated well.

The group demanded the law be rescinded in 48 hours, Al-Jazeera reported. The TV station did not say whether there was an ultimatum.

On Sunday, French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin called together the interior, foreign affairs and communication ministers to coordinate the government's response. Raffarin also was to discuss the situation with President Jacques Chirac.

Also Sunday, in the northern city of Mosul, insurgents fired rocket-propelled grenades from a mosque at U.S. troops in the early morning, sparking clashes that left two dead and 34 wounded, the military said.

Army Capt. Angela Bowman said patrolling U.S. forces were attacked twice before dawn near Tal Afar, about 30 miles west of Mosul. Soldiers returned fire during both assaults, killing two of the attackers, she said. No U.S. casualties were reported.

Provincial health chief Rabie Yasin al-Khalil said 32 people were injured in the clashes.

Citing a doctor at a hospital in Tal Afar, the U.S. military said 34 civilians were wounded, 26 of them women and children, "by flying debris and broken glass during the attacks on multinational forces. Many civilians were sleeping on their rooftops to escape the summer heat."

The military said troubles began at 3 a.m. when insurgents fired eight rocket-propelled grenades at a passing U.S. patrol. Seven of the RPG rounds were fired from a nearby mosque, the military said in a statement. Guerrillas attacked again three hours later, also from the mosque, and U.S. troops fired back, killing two assailants, the statement said.
Later Sunday, assailants blew up a cluster of export pipelines in al-Radgha, about 30 miles southwest of Basra, an official at the state-run South Oil Co. said on condition of anonymity. The pipelines, which connect the Rumeila oilfields with export storage tanks in the Faw peninsula, was ablaze after the attack and emergency workers were struggling to put the fire out, the official said.

If the fire is not put out and maintenance on other sabotaged lines not completed rapidly, exports could be halted entirely, a second official with the company said on condition of anonymity.

Late Friday, saboteurs blew up another pipeline in the West Qurna oilfields, about 90 miles north of Basra. Another attack, on Thursday, had reduced exports from the south to 900,000 barrels per day.