16 April 2004

Najaf Standoff for Iraqis, not Iranians, to Resolve, Senor Says

Coalition Provisional Authority Issues Iraq Update

Washington -- There is no role for a visiting Iranian delegation to play in mediating between cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's personal Shiite militia and coalition forces in Najaf, Iraq, according to the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) spokesman.

Briefing the press in Baghdad April 16, Senior CPA Adviser Dan Senor said, "[I]t is our position that there is no role for the Iranians to play ‘middleman' here in discussions between us and al-Sadr. ... [W]e believe that the issue with Sadr and his militia should be resolved by Iraqis, not Iranians."

Senor said the Iranian delegation, after arriving in Iraq, had contacted British representatives and sought a meeting with U.S. officials. U.S. Ambassador Ron Newman, a member of the CPA, met with the Iranians several days ago, Senor said. The U.S. message to the Iranians was "to be constructive, not destructive," he said.

Briefing with Senor, Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, deputy director for operations with Combined Joint Task Force 7 (CTJF-7), said the goal remains "to bring al-Sadr to Iraqi justice and the elimination of his militia as a threat to the nation of Iraq." Senor followed Kimmitt's statement by saying that "the rule of law in Iraq must prevail. Militias -- illegal militias -- and mobs must be disbanded."

Turning to the situation in Fallujah, Senor said a delegation of Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) members has been going there from Baghdad for six days, to try to "minimize the bloodshed and seek some sort of a peaceful resolution." In the past 24 hours, Senor said, a senior CPA representative and a senior representative from CTJF-7 also attended the meetings in order to demonstrate coalition resolve to minimize bloodshed and keep open the option of a political solution.

However, Senor added, "[T]here's only so long that this situation can continue." U.S. Marines outside Fallujah "have been on the receiving end" of attacks even as a political solution has been pursued, he said. "[A]nd all the while the enemy seems to be strengthening their defensive position." A political resolution can't happen "at the expense of our Marines," he said.

Senor said the coalition wants to see Fallujah's local leaders "turn over those foreign fighters we believe to be operating [there] ... international terrorists and those Iraqis that are supporting them."

Kimmitt said that once the Fallujah operation ends, coalition military forces "intend to get on with what we are really here for ... [to] restore the health clinics, reopen the schools, introduce a democratic form of government, let the children ...[and] families have a future."

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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