(AP) Truce talks aimed at ending more than a week of violence between Shiite militants and U.S. and Iraqi forces in the holy city of Najaf broke down Saturday, Iraqi National Security Adviser Mouwaffaq al-Rubaie said. It was not clear if the breakdown would lead to an immediate renewal of the fierce fighting between followers of firebrand Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and the combined coalition-Iraqi force that shook Najaf’s streets with gunfire and explosions since Aug. 5. The battles ended early Friday as the negotiations started.
“I feel deep sorrow and regret to announce the failure of the efforts we have exerted to end the crisis in Iraq peacefully,” he said. “Our goal was to spare blood, preserve security and for the militias to put down their weapons.”
Al-Rubaie, who had headed the negotiations on behalf of the government, said he had proposed al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia be disbanded and become a political movement.
“We have been talking and discussing these matters for three days but reached no positive conclusion,” he said. “After three days, my government thought there was no use in continuing.”
Al-Rubaie said he was going to leave the city, but would return for any new talks.
Al-Sadr issued a list of demands Friday, including a U.S. withdrawal from Najaf and amnesty for all his fighters, in exchange for disarming his followers and pulling them out of the revered Imam Ali shrine and Najaf’s old city, where they have taken refuge, aides said.
However, al-Sadr himself did not participate in the talks and al-Rubaie said he felt some “elements” were hindering his efforts to hold a face-to-face meeting with the cleric.
Ahmed al-Shaibany, an al-Sadr spokesman in Najaf, blamed the talks’ failure on the Americans, who were not participating in the negotiations.
“There are particular points and demands we had that we specifically wanted the Americans to sign on, but they refused,” he said.
Among those demands, he said, was U.S. compensation for the families of those killed in confrontations with the Americans.
The U.S. military has estimated that hundreds of insurgents had been killed in the Najaf fighting, but the militants dispute the figure. Six Americans have been killed, along with about 20 Iraqi officers, it said.