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Guerillas show sophistication

WASHINGTON, APRIL 14. Iraqi guerillas fighting the U.S.-led occupation force are displaying new sophistication, coordination and aggressiveness in tactics over the past week, according to U.S. officers involved in combat there. Most dramatically, as several thousand U.S. troops pushed south this week from the Baghdad area to the new base in Central Iraq, one highway bridge on their planned route was destroyed and two others were so heavily damaged that they could not be used by heavy Army trucks and armoured vehicles, the officials were quoted as saying by The Washington Post.

These attacks on convoy routes, which the U.S. forces were using for the first time, revealed a previously unseen degree of coordination among groups, said Army Col Dana J.H. Pittard, the commander of a brigade-size task force now assembling for possible combat operations against the forces of the radical Shia cleric, Moqtada Al Sadr. — PTI

Sadr drops `conditions'

AFP reports from Najaf:

Mr. Al Sadr has agreed to drop all his conditions in negotiations with the U.S.-led coalition and to follow the guidance of the highest Shia religious authority, a close aide said today.

``Moqtada Sadr is ready to accept what the Marjaiya (the spiritual leaders) ask for and to drop the conditions he had set for a mediation,'' Qais al-Khazaali told a press conference in Najaf.

He said the Marjaiya had chosen a delegation to negotiate with the U.S. side a settlement of the crisis.

The delegation is led by Abdel Karim al-Aanazi, who heads the breakaway faction of the Daawa party led by Ibrahim Jaafari.

The U.S. forces were today poised to capture or kill Mr. Al Sadr, who is holed up in Najaf and wanted for the alleged murder of a rival cleric last year.

Mr. Sadr has told journalists he is ready for outside mediation to end the standoff peacefully.

A Sadr spokesman today said that his loyalists were prepared to resist ``political pressure as well as a (military) confrontation.

``The reinforcements which the U.S. military talks about are aimed at either putting pressure to secure political concessions or at invading Najaf,'' said Sheikh Kais Khazaali. We are ready to face both scenarios.''

Meanwhile, agency reports say the number of U.S. soldiers killed in action in Iraq rose to 492 today, eight higher than the previous day, the official casualty update from the Pentagon showed.

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