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Southern Sudan's secession on July 9 is the latest chapter in a half-century struggle between the north and south.
Muqata al-Sadr's Shia armed group remains a formidable force in Iraq.
Al-Mahdi army members ordered to suspend operations as al-Maliki visits holy city.
A deal to end a bloody standoff in Najaf appears to have taken hold as thousands of Iraqi Shia pour into the Imam Ali mosque and militiamen loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr begin to withdraw.

US and Iraqi forces are reportedly closing in on fighters loyal to Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr besieged in the Imam Ali mosque in Najaf.

Amid a constant barrage of cannon fire from US warplanes, talks to end the standoff between US-led forces and militiamen loyal to Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr appear to have stalled.

In an exclusive interview with Aljazeera, a Muqtada al-Sadr spokesman has said the al-Mahdi Army is prepared for any attack against Najaf, but is also ready to accept any peace intitiative.

Heavy US

US marines backed by tanks and aircraft have seized the heart of the Iraqi city of Najaf in a major assault on Al-Mahdi Army fighters loyal to Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr.

The deputy governor of Najaf has resigned in protest against the US offensive on the city even as a series of explosions rocked Najaf as fighting between US marines an

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