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Iraq deal with Shia group 'close'


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Iraq deal with Shia group 'close'

Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi says he believes an agreement to secure a ceasefire in the troubled Sadr City district of Baghdad is close.

The area is held by supporters of radical Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr, who have been battling US and Iraqi forces.

Mr Allawi told the BBC that talks with militiamen had been held - but insisted they should surrender their weapons.

The cleric's aides are demanding the release of his supporters being held in prison as a condition of any deal.

"We are ready to lay down our heavy and medium-sized weapons in return for the release of all those imprisoned from our movement," Sadr spokesman Sheikh Abdul Hadi al-Darraji told AFP news agency.


Earlier on Thursday, the US military freed a senior aide of Mr Sadr, Moayad al-Khazraji, nearly a year after he was detained.

He denied that his release was part of a wider deal.

Mr Allawi, for his part, told the BBC supporters of the cleric had met government officials , and said the two sides were "on the verge" of a deal.

Sadr City has been the scene of heavy fighting in recent week, as joint US-Iraqi forces have tried to crush Mr Sadr's Medhi Army militia.

The Iraqi prime minister says an arrangement can be reached if Mr Sadr's men hand in their weapons and "surrender their criminals".

However Mr Allawi made no mention of the release of prisoners demanded by the militants.

Even so, the BBC's Karen Allen in Baghdad says, the recent ceasefire in the holy city of Najaf has given cause for optimism that talks can secure peace ahead of election due in January.

The prime minister said negotiations similar to those in Sadr City were under way in the Sunni city of Falluja.

The city, west of Baghdad, has been a no-go area for US forces since a siege was lifted last April.

Story from BBC NEWS:


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Rockets hit Baghdad hotel complex

Two rockets have slammed into a hotel complex in central Baghdad.

At least one rocket hit the Sheraton hotel, which lies in a compound with the Palestine hotel - both used by journalists and other foreign workers.

Bursts of gunfire were heard shortly afterwards - believed to have come from US troops guarding the compound.

A fire broke out outside the Sheraton hotel and several windows were shattered, but there were no reports of serious injuries.

"I was working at my computer when I heard loud explosions followed by some gunfire," one guest staying at the Sheraton told AFP news agency.

Shaken hotel guests fled the hotel, whose main entrance was filled with smoke and debris.

Witnesses said the rockets were fired from the back of a truck parked in Firdous Square outside the hotel, where a statue of Saddam Hussein was famously pulled down as the former regime collapsed in April 2003.

US military spokesman Major Philip Smith told AFP that Iraqi security forces had cordoned off a vehicle that may have been involved in the attack and were investigating it.

The rockets narrowly missed an Iraqi wedding party taking place at a nearby club.

The Sheraton and the Palestine hotels, which are heavily-protected by US forces and ringed by high concrete walls, have often been targeted by mortar fire.

They stand across the Tigris River from the heavily-fortified Green Zone - the compound housing the interim Iraqi government and the US and British embassies.

Story from BBC NEWS:


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