Al-Sadr aide released

A senior aide to Iraqi Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr has been released from US detention.

    Al-Sadr has condemned US-led forces as 'occupiers'

    Shaikh Mahmud Sudani said on Thursday he had received a

    telephone call from

    Muayad al-Khazraji, a religious judge who was believed to have

    been held at Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad.

    "He was released this morning," Sudani said.

    Al-Khazraji was detained nearly a year ago along with seven

    other clerics close to al-Sadr, including Sudani, all charged

    with engaging in anti-US activities.

    The arrests triggered

    widespread protests.

    The other seven have already been freed.

    Negotiations

    Al-Khazraji's release could help in negotiations to try to draw

    up a truce between US forces and al-Sadr's fighters in

    the Sadr City district of Baghdad.

    "It would appear to be a softening in the Americans'

    position," Sudani said of his fellow cleric's release.

    Most of Sadr City is a no-go area
    for US-led forces

    Al-Sadr has demanded that US forces free his senior aides,

    stop bombing Sadr City and help rebuild the huge Shia slum

    district as a prelude to any ceasefire agreement.

    The interim Iraqi government has demanded that al-Sadr's fighters

    disarm and hand over their weapons.

    Talks to draw up a truce have been going on for several

    days, but had reached a stalemate in the past 36 hours.

    Green Zone explosion

    Meanwhile, a loud explosion echoed across

    central Baghdad on Thursday and white smoke rose from the

    direction of the Green Zone housing Iraqi government offices and

    the US and British embassies.

    The interim interior ministry and the US military had no immediate

    word on the cause of the blast. All entrances to the Green Zone

    were closed off, people working there said.

    The Green Zone, a sprawling compound on the west bank of the

    Tigris river, has been a frequent target for fighters using

    car bombs, rockets and mortars to attack US forces and Iraq's

    US-backed interim government.

    On Wednesday, US forces defused a small bomb near a

    popular restaurant inside the heavily fortified complex.

    "It was an improvised explosive device," said Lieutenant-C

    olonel Steve Boylan.

    Enclosed area

    "It

    was defused and there were no injuries or damage," he added.

    The barricaded Green Zone is home
    to the Iraqi interim government

    The bomb was discovered near the Green Zone Cafe, one of the

    more popular restaurants used by US military personnel and

    contractors who live and work in the area, formerly Saddam

    Hussein's presidential complex.

    There have been occasional bomb scares inside the area,

    which is almost entirely enclosed within four-metre-high concrete

    blast walls, but which is home to many Iraqi

    families as well as US, British and Iraqi officials.

    The US embassy has advised citizens to avoid the cafe and

    other restaurants within the Green Zone complex, which is

    supposed to be one of the safest areas of Baghdad.

    US soldiers killed

    In a separate incident, one US soldier was killed and two wounded in an overnight attack on an army convoy near the city of Falluja, the military said in a statement.

    An "unknown type of explosive device" hit the convoy at about around 2145 local time (1845 GMT) on Wednesday.


    And another US soldier was killed when Iraqi fighters attacked a

    patrol

    north of Baghdad.

    The US military said a roadside bomb, which also injured an Iraqi translator,

    exploded around midnight on Wednesday near

    Baiji, 180km north of the capital.

    Based on the latest Pentagon figures, the death brings to 1066 the number of US troops killed in Iraq since last year's invasion.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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