U.S. vows to kill or capture al-Sadr

U.S. warns rebels to continue negotiations or risk full-out assault on Fallujah

As coalition forces vowed to take Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr dead or alive, the radical Muslim leader agreed to meet a U.S. demand to end the standoff in southern Iraq.

"The mission of U.S. forces is to kill or capture Muqtada al-Sadr," Lt.-Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said in news conference Monday."That is our mission."

Al-Sadr instructed his militiamen to pull out of police stations and government facilities in Najaf, according to one of his representatives.

Representatives of al-Sadr have been negotiating with Iraqi Shiite political parties to end the standoff between the U.S. forces and the cleric's forces.

The U.S. had demanded al-Sadr relinquish control of police and government sites in Najaf, Kufa and Karbala.

His followers began a bloody uprising on April 4, gaining control of the southern cities. Al-Sadr has vowed to turn Iraq into another Vietnam for the Americans.

The U.S. has also demanded al-Sadr dissolve his al-Mahdi Army, a demand his supporters reject.

It is not known if al-Sadr's partial agreement to meet a U.S. demand will affect the military's decision to hunt the cleric down.

Fallujah still quiet

Meanwhile a fragile ceasefire continues to hold in Fallujah. But the U.S. has warned it will launch another attack on the city unless there is progress in talks with rebels controlling southern areas of the country.

While people in Fallujah reported sporadic gunfire before dawn on Monday, the ceasefire appears to be holding for a second day.

Fallujah is where four U.S. contractors working in Iraq were captured, burned and their bodies mutilated. The ceasefire was part of negotiations between city officials and Iraq's Governing Council, which is seeking the surrender of those responsible for the March 31 incident.

Close to 1,200 U.S. marines were sent into the city on April 5.

Coalition military officials say they are hoping for a negotiated solution to the violence, but will launch a strong military assault unless talks between the U.S.-backed Governing Council and rebels continue.

Since April 1, close to 700 Iraqis and 70 coalition soldiers, including 62 U.S. marines, have been killed, U.S. military officials said Monday.