Sadr orders fighters to lay down arms

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The rebel cleric Muqtada Sadr today ordered his fighters to lay down their arms and leave Najaf and neighbouring Kufa.

The call came after Iraq's top Shiite cleric made a dramatic return to Najaf and swiftly won agreement from the firebrand cleric and the government to end three weeks of fighting between his militia and US-Iraqi forces.

Sadr issued the order in a statement to his Mahdi Army militia from his office in Najaf that was also broadcast through loudspeakers at the revered Imam Ali Shrine.

"To all my brothers in Mahdi Army ... you should leave Kufa and Najaf without your weapons, along with the peaceful masses."

Dozens of militants complied with the order, piling Kalashnikov rifles in front of Sadr's office. Thousands of al-Sadr's militiamen are still believed to be armed in the city, however.

The five-point peace plan calls for Najaf and Kufa to be declared weapons-free cities, for all foreign forces to withdraw from Najaf, for police to be in charge of security, for the government to compensate those harmed by the fighting, and for a census to be taken to prepare for elections expected in the country by January.

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