Hunted Najaf Leader Warns U.S.

A suspected Muqtada al-Sadr follower at an US army base outside Najaf, Iraq, Friday April 16, 2004. He was apprehended by US troops on patrol near the city of Najaf and brought in for interrogation. (AP Photo/Saurabh Das) AP

Wanted Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr said Friday that negotiations in his standoff with the United States were near collapse.

Followers of the radical Shiite cleric have vowed there will be an all-out war if U.S. troops storm the holy city of Najaf, reports CBS News Correspondent Lisa Barron.

Al-Sadr militiamen attacked American soldiers outside the city of Kufa, neighboring Najaf. During clashes Friday, large explosions were seen by the river in a sparsely populated area on the edge of Kufa. Five civilians caught in the crossfire were killed and 14 wounded, hospital officials said.

Meanwhile, insurgents fired mortars at an Iraqi police station and a U.S base, but missed their targets and killed eight Iraqi civilians in the northern city of Mosul, a top U.S. general said Friday.

U.S. military and civilian officials met Friday with leaders from Fallujah, the first known direct negotiations between Americans and city representatives since the siege of the city began 12 days ago.

In other developments:

  • Some Iraqi nuclear facilities appear to be unguarded, and radioactive materials are being taken out of the country, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency reported after reviewing satellite images and equipment that has turned up in European scrapyards.

  • Three Czech reporters missing in Iraq since the weekend were released by their kidnappers, the reporters said. "We all are in good condition," Vit Pohanka told the Czech radio from the Czech Embassy in Baghdad.

  • A businessman from the United Arab Emirates was kidnapped from a hotel by men disguised as police officers. Initial reports errantly said the man was an American.

  • Meeting at the White House, President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair showed a united front on Iraq, hoping to boost public support and bolster a wobbly military coalition. "We will not waver in the face of fear and intimidation," said President Bush.

  • CBS News foreign affairs analyst Pamela Falk reports that after a late-night meeting with Blair, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan "appeared more confident that a new U.N. Security Council resolution would clear the way for a transition government and an international military presence in Iraq."

  • Mr. Bush secretly ordered a war plan drawn up against Iraq less than two months after U.S. forces attacked Afghanistan, says a new book on his Iraq policy. (The book, by Bob Woodward, is published by a company owned by Viacom, which also owns CBSNews.com.)

    Some 2,500 U.S. troops are ringing the city of Najaf. U.S. commanders have vowed to "kill or capture" the militia leader al-Sadr, but have so far limited their actions to small skirmishes on the outskirts.

    Shiite Governing Council member Ibrahim al-Jaafari said he saw "flexibility from al-Sadr's side" and called on the Americans to show "similar flexibility."

    Al-Sadr on Monday withdrew his militiamen from police stations they had occupied in Najaf, Kufa and Karbala last week — meeting a key U.S. demand.

    The Marines have halted offensive operations in Fallujah for a week, and Sunni insurgents called a cease-fire on Sunday to allow the talks between Iraqis to take place. But the truce has been severely strained by heavy nightly fighting between the two sides around the Marines' relatively fixed positions.

    A U.S. F-16 warplane dropped a 2,000-pound bomb in northern Fallujah during the day Friday, destroying a building where gunmen had been seen, Marines said. The giant blast sent up a huge spray of dirt and smoke that clouded an entire neighborhood, and gunpowder could be smelled miles away.

    U.S. AC-130 Spectre gunships were in action before dawn Friday over Fallujah, raking militant hideouts with machine gun fire. Hospital officials tell Barron that 15 people were killed. Militants also fired mortar shells at U.S. positions overnight.

    Eleven city delegates attended the talks in Fallujah, most wearing business suits, but one member attended wearing traditional robes.

    U.S. officials would not comment on the substance of the negotiations or give details on who the Fallujah representatives were.

    The talks were held at a Marine base near Fallujah. One U.S. coalition official and one military official participated.

    In the first sign of possible progress in the inter-Iraqi talks, mosques in Fallujah called on police and Iraqi Civil Defense Corps members to report to their positions on Friday.
    • Joel Roberts

    Comments