| Radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr at the Imam Ali mosque in Najaf. (Reuters)
Athens, Aug. 14 (Reuters): Leaders of Washington’s top allies in Iraq, Britain and Poland, backed an appeal for an Olympic Truce today just as intense fighting involving the allied forces was set to resume in Najaf.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and several other top government and sports officials signed the truce declaration at a ceremony on the first day of competition at the Olympic Games in Athens.
Kwasniewski said sometimes military engagement was necessary in the quest for peace: “This is an appeal. We have to work for peace but it’s not easy,” he said.
“In some places in the world we have to act, we have to fight, because without such engagement it is impossible to solve the problems.”
Poland commands a multinational force of 8,000 troops in south-central Iraq. They include 2,500 Polish soldiers who have seen action not far from Najaf, where US troops have battled militiamen loyal to radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
Blair, whose forces have fought Sadr supporters further south around Basra, left the signing ceremony without pausing to speak to reporters.
In ancient Greece, all fighting had to stop from a week before the games until a week after so that athletes, artists and spectators could travel safely to and from Olympia.
The concept was revived by the modern Games’ organisers in 1992 during the war between Serbs and Muslims in Bosnia and endorsed by the UN.
US secretary of state Colin Powell, speaking in Washington yesterday, said the truce appeal was a “noble effort” but sadly it would have no impact on Iraq: The violence was the work of “outlaws and ... former regime elements and ... terrorists who respect no truce, who respect nothing except force,” he said.
The Iraqi Olympic team from Iraq, which returned to the Games this week for the first time since 1988, still cherishes some hope the truce might just have an effect back home. “It is possible,” Tiras Odisho, a senior official in the 48-strong delegation, earlier in the week. “Iraqis are very sports minded ... there just might be a ceasefire.”
Najaf set for clashes
However, in Najaf, US and Iraqi forces were poised today to resume fighting rebel Shia militia after peace talks aimed at ending an uprising that has killed hundreds collapsed.
Iraq’s national security adviser Mowaffaq al-Rubaie said in Najaf that the embattled US-backed interim government had given up trying to reach a deal with radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mehdi Army.
An uneasy truce has held in Najaf since yesterday, when US troops and tanks loosened their noose around the Imam Ali Mosque and an ancient cemetery where Sadr and his followers have holed up. The firebrand cleric has vowed to fight to the death.