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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Najaf Talks Break Down

Aired August 14, 2004 - 09:09   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: We want to give you the latest now out of Najaf, where CNN's Matthew Chance is reporting on a peace agreement that has gone awry. Matthew, what's the latest?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTL. CORRESPONDENT (on phone): Well, it was just negotiations for a peace agreement that seem to have gone awry, as you say, because the national security adviser of Iraq, Mufaq Rabai (ph), has just held an impromptu press conference. He was in the city of Najaf attempting to broker a peace deal with the Mehdi Army, loyal, of course, to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

He's just announced to us that -- he said with great sadness, that the peace effort has failed as a result of a problem in Iraq. He said the Iraqi government had exhausted all efforts to reach a peace deal. He also added that the government, along with U.S. military forces, would be resuming military operations, as he said, to return Najaf to normality and to establish law and order.

Just for some background, over the past 24 hours or so, there has been a sort of truce in effect, which has given the people of Najaf, at the very least, the opportunity to bury their dead and to go about their normal lives and to collect some supplies. But that comes only after more than a week of extremely intense fighting that has seen hundreds of people killed on the streets as U.S. forces battle in very close quarters with the Mehdi Army loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr.

There had been hopes that some kind of peace agreement could be reached, because a good number of those Mehdi Army fighters are holed up inside the Imam Ali Mosque. Now, that's one of the holiest places in Shi'a Islam. It's an immensely sensitive and holy site. They've been firing mortars and carrying out attacks from inside that mosque.

The logical thing, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) on a military basis, would be to go in and to clear it out, but U.S. forces, along with the Iraqi government, very fearful that that would provoke a major backlash.

These peace talks now off the table, and we're getting indications that those military actions, those hostilities, will resume sooner rather than later, at least from the Iraqi government and the U.S. military side, Betty.

NGUYEN: CNN's Matthew Chance in Najaf with the latest on a peace -- or peace negotiations that have stalled and are now off the table.

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