"The Americans once again committed a gross error -- they hurt Iraqis' religious feelings by using military force in Najaf," Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said in a telephone conversation with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Monday.
Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported that Kharrazi had requested Annan to use all UN authority to put an end to the fighting in the vicinity of the Shiite holy shrine, the Imam Ali mausoleum in Najaf.
Most of the Iranian population, just like in Iraq, comprises Shiite Muslims.
The Iraqi holy city of Najaf, housing shrines of Shiite Muslims, was declared a zone of military operations early Monday morning.
The Iraqi Interior Ministry has warned the population of an operation to liquidate armed formations of the Mehdi Army that is fighting US and Iraqi interim gov't forces.
Reporters have been ordered to quit the city under the threat of arrest. The only television station continuing transmissions from the scene is the Al-Arabia television Channel of Dubai.
According to Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, "The unconditional surrender of gunmen is the only way out of the formed crisis."
The head of the Iraqi transitional government has refused to hold any kind of talks with firebrand Shiite leader Moqtada Al-Sadr "until this is fulfilled."
According to news reports, tense calm prevailed over the night in Najaf as residents prepared for a major offensive which the US is reportedly preparing to launch in the next few days after the breakdown of negotiations for a ceasefire.
The American military on Monday blocked the Umm al-Qura mosque in Baghdad, where the headquarters of the largest religio-political organization of Iraqi Sunnis, the Association of Muslim Clerics (AMC), is housed.
The Qatari satellite television channel Al-Jazeera reported that the American troops did not let anybody in or out of the mosque and carried out searches in the building as well.
"The American military obviously want to harm us," a member of the AMC, Abdel Gafur al-Samarrai, said live on Al-Jazeera television.
"They know very well that the Umm al-Qura mosque houses the association's headquarters which opposes occupation of Iraq."
The AMC had earlier decisively refused to participate in an Iraqi national conference that opened on Sunday to elect a national council to oversee the Iraqi Parliament.
The association's leaders said the conference does not represent the interests of all the Iraqi people.
The AMC leadership also voiced support for the leader of the insurgent Shiite Muslims of the country, Moqtada al-Sadr.
... Payvand News - 8/17/04 ... --