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Al-Sadr Calls For Unity In Iraq

Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr talks to the media in his house in the holy Shiite city of Najaf, Iraq, Thursday, Aug. 25, 2005. Al-Sadr called for an end to the armed clashes between his followers and supporters of a rival Shiite group, saying Muslims should not be fighting one another. (AP Photo/Alla Al-Marjani)
A radical Shiite cleric called on his followers Thursday to end clashes with Shiite rivals so that stalled talks on a new constitution can proceed. Clashes continued for a second day after the cleric's office in Najaf was burned and four of his supporters were killed.

Following the appeal by cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, leaders of the country's political factions met in the Green Zone to try to hammer out an agreement on the draft constitution on the final day of an extension granted Monday night by parliament after Sunni Arabs blocked a vote on the accord accepted by Shiite and Kurdish negotiators

"I call upon all believers to spare the blood of the Muslims and to return to their homes," al-Sadr told reporters in his home in Najaf. "I will not forget this attack on the office ... but Iraq is passing through a critical and difficult period that requires unity."

He demanded that Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the rival Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI, to condemn "what his followers have done." SCIRI has denied any role in the attack on al-Sadr's office.

"I urge the believers not to attack innocent civilians and not to fall for Americans plots that aim to divide us," al-Sadr said. "We are passing through a critical period and a political process."

In other recent developments:

  • Amid all the talk of bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq, American officials announced they are sending 1,500 more troops to provide security for a referendum and national elections later this year, .

  • A donor conference to coordinate the revival of southern Iraq's once-lush marshlands has been canceled because of the ongoing stalemate in Baghdad over the country's constitution. The conference was supposed to begin Thursday in Tokyo; a new date and location has not been decided.

  • Deputy justice minister Awshoo Ibrahim escaped a second assassination attempt in two days when gunmen fired at his convoy, killing four of his bodyguards and wounding five.

  • Dozens of insurgents wearing black uniforms and masks launched their boldest assault in Baghdad in weeks, attacking police Wednesday with multiple car bombs and small arms fire. At least 13 people were kiled, and another 43 injured, in what was a brazen daylight attack that began with three car bombs.

  • The U.S. Defense Department is ordering 1,500 paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division to Iraq to provide security for the scheduled Oct. 15 referendum on the proposed constitution and the December national elections.

  • A court in Iraq said Saddam Hussein has fired his legal team with one exception. The Iraqi Special Tribunal said Saddam has retained an Iraqi attorney, Khalil al-Dulaimi, who is the only person authorized to represent him.

  • The Polish military said the Polish-led multinational force stationed in Iraq has handed over to the Iraqis one of its bases - the "Zulu" base in the Wasit province. The base will be now under the control of Iraqi army's 8th division headed by Gen. Ottoman Farhood.