The ministers on Saturday drove through the shattered urban landscape, inspected the Imam Ali shrine and held talks with Iraq’s top Shia cleric, Grand Ayat Allah Ali al-Sistani.

“We have come to Najaf to consolidate the peace settlement we reached and to congratulate Sistani,” Minister of State Qasim Dawud who led the delegation, said.

The ministers arrived outside Najaf in two Black Hawk helicopters and were driven through streets littered with wreckage and ammunition in a convoy led by police cars with sirens wailing.

Reopening shrine

After inspecting the shrine, Dawud said it was now free of weapons would be reopened to the public within 10 days.

The ministers held a 20-meeting meeting with Sistani to discuss the government’s plan to rebuild Najaf and to restore water, electricity, sewage and hospital services.

“The destruction is huge,” said Health Minister Ala al-Din al-Alwan. “Najaf is going to be a big priority in the budget of the government. It needs a great deal of work to rebuild it”.

Public Works Minister Nisrin Barwari said the government would “bring Najaf back to what it was before the war”.

Three weeks of fighting between US occupation forces and fighters loyal to Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr have left Najaf in ruins.

The fighting ended earlier this week after al-Sistani intervened and al-Sadr’s al-Mahdi Army agreed to leave the shrine.