Aug. 14, 2004 – Supporters of rebel Shiâ€™ite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr are predicting "a massacre" following news that Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi called an end to truce talks in Najaf after two days of negotiations. "Yes, the military operations will start," Iraqi National Security Advisor Muqafaq Al-Rubaie told reporters Saturday. Al-Rubaie, who had been negotiating with Al-Sadrâ€™s representatives, said he was "overcome with deep grief" that efforts "to reach a peaceful solution have failed."
Al-Sadrâ€™s camp accused Allawi of reneging on an agreement supposedly reached between the interim government and Al-Sadrâ€™s representatives, reports the Associated Press. Al-Sadr spokesman Qai Al-Khazali told the AP that after the cleric had actually signed an agreement, Al-Sadrâ€™s group was "surprised" to find the government's negotiators recalled by Allawi.
Al-Rubaie reportedly said little about how the negotiations fell apart aside from stating that the interim government made the decision. "My government thinks it is time for me to break off the negotiations and return to Baghdad," he told reporters.
An estimated 10,000 al-Sadr supporters and demonstrators have gathered in Najaf, reportedly ready to "martyr themselves" as human shields in the anticipated US-led onslaught. "The Iraqi government will be responsible for the coming massacre in Najaf," Al-Khazali asserted, according to Agence France-Presse. "Tanks and convoys are preparing to attack the city in the coming hours."
US military commanders of troops stationed around Najaf also said an assault could begin at any time, reports the New York Times, which notes that embedded reporters have been told to "expect heavy fighting in the days ahead."