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Moqtada Al-Sadr's militia strikes deal with U -

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Moqtada Al-Sadr's militia strikes deal with US forces

AM - Tuesday, 12 October , 2004 08:24:00

Reporter: Alison Caldwell

TONY EASTLEY: Fighters loyal to Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr have begun handing over their
weapons, in a deal designed to end fighting between the militiamen and US-led forces in Baghdad's
Sadr City.

Alison Caldwell reports.

ALISON CALDWELL: Technically speaking it's not a truce, but it's a deal designed to end the
fighting between Shi'ite militiamen and the US-led forces in Iraq.

Earlier today members of Al-Sadr's Mehdi Army began surrendering their weapons in exchange for cash
at one of three designated police stations in Baghdad's Sadr City. Included in the handover, rocket
propelled grenade launchers, mortars and explosives.

American military spokesman Gary Voleski explained how the agreement will work.

GARY VOLESKI: For the next five days we're going to be taking in weapons from the militia, and we
want them to turn in all of them. After that five days the police and the Iraqi National Guard and
the Iraqi Army, with our support, if required, will go and search selected areas of people that may
not have turned their weapons in. But there has been no ceasefire agreement, there is no truce.

ALISON CALDWELL: Under the agreement, the militiamen will be allowed to keep their Kalashnikovs.

Both sides still view each other with suspicion, many of the fighters covered their faces during
the handover, as did some of the Iraqi National Guard members, for fear of being targeted.

Officials paid $7 for a hand grenade, and up to $1,300 for a heavy calibre machine gun. One
official said a few men refused to be paid after handing in their weapons.

The Iraqi interim government has in turn pledged to spend more than half a billion dollars on
developing Sadr City's infrastructure. It's also agreed to release detained Al-Sadr followers and
suspended raids in the north-eastern Baghdad district.

For his part Moqtada Al-Sadr will be allowed to participate in the country's election process.

Iraq's interim foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari says that despite the slow start, he's optimistic
about the handover.

HOSHYAR ZEBARI: This agreement in fact will have a tremendous positive impact on the overall
security situation in the country. Already we are seeing signs and contact with the local people of
Fallujah, who are also reaching out to the government to make some arrangements, to allow the Iraqi
security forces to go into the city and to take up their responsibility.

ALISON CALDWELL: Convincing the Shia Muslims of Sadr City to surrender is one thing, but persuading
Sunni Muslim fighters in cities like Fallujah to do likewise will be much tougher.

The American military will have to stay away and leave security in the hands of the reconstituted
Iraqi security forces.

The deal doesn't include the insurgents loyal to Jordanian terrorist Abu Mussab Al-Zarqawi, the
group responsible for the recent beheading of British contractor Kenneth Bigley.

TONY EASTLEY: Alison Caldwell.