The anti-American Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr on Friday endorsed the new interim Iraqi government and appeared to urge his followers to honor a week-old cease-fire that has been frayed by continuing violence.
A senior aide to Mr. Sadr, Sheik Jabir al-Khafaji, used a sermon during Friday Prayers in the Sadr stronghold of Kufa, 120 miles south of here, to announce that Mr. Sadr now approved of the interim government he had previously mocked and that he wanted its leaders to set a timetable for the departure of occupation forces.
" ?From now on, I beg you to start afresh for Iraq for the sake of peace and safety,' " Sheik Khafaji quoted Mr. Sadr as saying. " ?We have to avoid pushing humiliation and aggression on others and go forward with the independence of Iraq and not respond to the occupiers.' "
Those words represent a radical reversal of Mr. Sadr's past position. They could also represent an effort by Mr. Sadr to become involved in the politics of the nation, rather than continue as a leader of a 10-week-old insurgent struggle.
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Another Sadr aide said after the sermon that Mr. Sadr's change of position did not mean that he supported the occupation or American involvement in the new government, but rather that he hoped the new government would work for the interests of Iraqis. Mr. Sadr met last Saturday with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's most influential Shiite cleric, but it was unclear whether Ayatollah Sistani had persuaded Mr. Sadr to reverse his opposition to the new government.
At the same time that Mr. Sadr's faction appeared to soften its hard-line position, imams at several Sunni mosques in Baghdad delivered sermons beseeching former officers of the Iraqi Army to join the insurgency and drive out the American-led occupation forces.
US soldiers have foiled a new sabotage attempt against Iraq's key oil sector following three successful attacks earlier in the week, the US military says."
Local residents have alerted troops in the town of Qayyarah, between the main oil pipeline hub of Baiji and the northern capital of Mosul, to a bomb at a nearby refinery.
" Soldiers quickly discovered the device, which was connected to a timer, and notified the explosive ordnance disposal team who destroyed the device ," a spokesman said.
Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi warned yesterday that the country has lost more than $US200 million over the past seven months due to 130 separate attacks on its pipeline network.
He blames terrorists and foreign fighters for targeting the industry, which generates more than 90 per cent of Iraq's revenues.
The U.N. Security Council on Wednesday unanimously voted for a U.S. resolution backing the transfer of sovereignty to Iraq's new government, which President Bush deemed a "catalyst for change."
The resolution details the powers and the limitations of the new interim Iraqi government that will assume power on June 30. It authorizes the U.S. -led multinational force to remain in Iraq to help ensure security but gives the Iraqi government the right to ask the force to leave at any time.
France and Germany dropped their objections after the resolution included a last-minute compromise giving Iraqi leaders control over the activities of their own troops and a say on "sensitive offensive operations" by the multinational force - such as the controversial siege of Fallujah.
But the measure stops short of granting the Iraqis a veto over major U.S. -led military operations.
The top American general in Iraq says three Italians and a Polish citizen , who were abducted at different times in the past seven weeks, were freed in a U.S. -led rescue operation south of Baghdad."
The top coalition military commander in Iraq, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, told reporters that all of the hostages were freed from the same location and that there was no exchange of gunfire. "The hostages are under coalition forces control and they are in good health. And yes, we did detain some individuals at the site," he said.
General Sanchez did not give details about who the soldiers detained or exactly how the military operation freed the Italian and Polish hostages. But the commander of Polish troops in Iraq says special forces troops from the U.S. -led coalition were involved in the rescue mission.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi told Italian state television he expects the three Italians to be flown home on Wednesday.