Speaking to Aljazeera, Hamid al-Khafaf, the spokesman for Grand Ayat Allah Ali al-Sistani, denied that the Shia authority  in a meeting on Saturday expressed opposition to armed resistance.

"I confirm that there was no agreement among the Shia religious leaders on not resisting the multinational forces and the news was groundless and false," al-Khafaf said.

Ali Bashir al-Najafi, spokesman for Grand Ayat Allah Bashir al-Najafi, also denied that "armed resistance against the occupation" was discussed in the meeting.

"The meeting was mainly intended to visit Ayat Allah al-Sistani to ask about his health, review what was achieved of his initiative to end the crisis in Najaf and express concern over the current situation in both Najaf and Kufa," he said.

The meeting of the group known as the Marjaiya came two days after al-Sistani persuaded Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr to end a three-week battle against US and interim Iraqi government forces in Najaf. 

Media reports

The denials came amid media reports that said the Shia authority in its meeting at the house of Ayat Allah al-Sistani in Najaf expressed its opposition to armed resistance.

Al-Najafi denied any fatwa being issued during the meeting. "The matter has nothing to do with fatwa and it was not a fatwa.

"A main concern of the Marjaiya since the beginning has been for the government and the police to take control of the city and establish the rule of law," al-Najafi told reporters. 

Peace deal

Grand Ayat Allahs Muhammad Saad al-Hakim and Ishaq al-Fayad met al-Sistani at his Najaf home.

Al-Najafi, the fourth cleric in the Marjaiya quartet, arrived later for a separate audience with al-Sistani. 

Late on Thursday, al-Sadr signed a five-point plan put forward by al-Sistani that insisted on the departure of all armed elements from Najaf and its twin city Kufa.

"The conditions imposed by the Marjaiya to solve this crisis
were clear ... an end to the fighting, clearing the city of
fighters, guaranteeing their safe exit from Najaf and the reconstruction of the city," said al-Najafi. 

But he added: "It was the same under Saddam [Hussein] as under the occupation. Both regimes have left Iraq an open field, letting large amounts of weapons enter Iraq from abroad. 

"The result of their [US] intervention in Iraq is not a
liberation but a new front for them to fight their enemies and
attack Islam."