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Hundreds Call on Sadr Militia to Quit Iraq's Najaf


DC09

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NAJAF, Iraq (Reuters) - Hundreds of people marched in Najaf on Tuesday calling on rebel Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to pull his militia out of the Iraqi holy city.

Witnesses said they marched to the central shrine area of the city before dispersing peacefully. Some Sadr gunmen fired in the air toward the end of the march, but most marchers had dispersed by then.

The demonstration, organized by Sadr's political foes, followed a smaller one on Monday and reflected increasing pressure from Shi'ite elders on Sadr to move his men out of the city as U.S.-led forces tighten their noose around it.

U.S. forces have surrounded the city as part of a campaign to crush Sadr's fighters and end a month-long uprising that erupted in Baghdad and cities across the Shi'ite south.

Sadr, wanted in connection with the murder last year of a rival cleric, is opposed by much of the mainstream Shi'ite religious establishment, which has urged him to end his standoff with U.S. forces and pull his fighters from mosques.

He launched an uprising against U.S.-led forces last month and has taken refuge among the shrines of Najaf, among the holiest for Shi'ites. U.S.-led forces have been hoping internal pressure would force him out.

U.S. commanders have said they do not want to push into the shrine area, which they know would cause outrage among Shi'ites, but General John Abizaid, who is in charge of U.S. forces in the Middle East, said on Monday his patience was wearing thin.

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