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April 14, 2004 3:00 AM

As U.S. troops close in, al-Sadr offers to talk

With American troops closing in and a growing number of his gunmen in hiding, radical Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al Sadr on Wednesday offered unconditional talks with U.S. authorities seeking to kill or capture him. His spokesman in Najaf said al Sadr, whose men have launched widespread attacks on American forces in the last week, was retreating further by dropping demands that U.S.-led coalition forces withdraw from residential areas, free Iraqi detainees and end the siege of Fallujah before negotiations could proceed. Elsewhere in Iraq, an Italian hostage was killed by his abductors.

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