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Radical Shiites agree to peace

BAGHDAD — An extremist Shiite group believed responsible for the killing of five American soldiers in a bold raid south of Baghdad and the kidnapping of five British men has agreed to renounce violence, a government adviser said Monday.

The deal was reached during a weekend meeting between Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and representatives of Asaib Ahl al-Haq, or League of the Righteous, a group the United States alleges is backed by Iran and refuses to adhere to a militia cease-fire.

The group promised to lay down its weapons and join the political process, according to government aide Sami al-Askari, who was at the meeting. In return, Maliki promised to seek the release of detainees in U.S. custody, Askari said.

The deal comes as the Shiite-led Iraqi government moves increasingly to assert its sovereignty and solidify its power base ahead of national elections scheduled for January. The U.S. military also has seen its influence wane as it begins to pull back its troops, with plans for a full withdrawal by the end of 2011.

Laith al-Khazali, a key member of the group, was released in June as part of national reconciliation efforts by the Iraqi government. He and his brother, Qais, were accused of organizing a daring attack Jan. 20, 2007, on a local government headquarters in Karbala that killed five U.S. soldiers.

Monday's announcement also comes less than a week after Britain said it believed that two British hostages captured two years ago in a raid on Iraq's Finance Ministry that was blamed on the group were likely dead. The bodies of two other British contractors seized were returned to England in June, while negotiations are under way for the release of the IT consultant they had been guarding.

Also Monday, a suicide car bomber struck a police checkpoint in a small town west of Baghdad, killing at least three people.

Radical Shiites agree to peace 08/03/09 [Last modified: Monday, August 3, 2009 10:46pm]
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