The announcement on Saturday spells the end of a tentative ceasefire in Najaf after more than a week of clashes that have stirred anger across the region.
“The Iraqi interim government is resuming military clearing operations to … establish law and order in the holy city,” said National Security Adviser Muwafaq al-Rubaai on Saturday.
He said the government had made every effort to find a peaceful solution to 10 days of conflict that had killed hundreds.
But a close aide of al-Sadr, Shaikh Ali al-Sumaisim told Aljazeera that interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi was to blame for the collapse of talks.
“Just as we were about to sign the agreement, interim Premier Iyad Allawi … put an end to the talks”
Shaikh Ali al-Sumaisim,
“We accepted all the points raised by al-Rubaai,” said al-Sumaisim. “But … just as we were about to sign the agreement, interim Premier Iyad Allawi contacted him, put an end to the talks and referred the whole issue back to Baghdad.”
Al-Sadr, who has periodically sought an accommodation with the US-installed authorities ruling Iraq, has been demanding the withdrawal of foreign forces and an amnesty for his fighters.
Al-Sadr’s al-Mahdi army has posed the biggest challenge to Allawi’s government since the US occupation authority gave it official but in effect limited sovereignty on 28 June.
Al-Sadr supporters protest
But US and Iraqi government forces face a dilemma in trying to oust the al-Mahdi army from Najaf, which is home to several revered Muslim sites, including the Imam Ali mosque and shrine.
The week-long offensive there caused outrage throughout Iraq and much of the Arab world as protesters took to the streets and voiced anger at the attacks by US-led occupation forces.
“Presently, the US forces are making a pincer movement towards Najaf,” said al-Sumaisim.
“This is an explicit conspiracy to commit a large-scale massacre in Iraq. The target is not only al-Sadr movement but also all the honest people of Iraq … everyone who opposes the occupation and colonialism.”