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Europe

European Press Review: Hopes Rise for Peace in Najaf

European papers mulled over how the influential cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's return to Iraq will impact the country's chances for a peaceful future.

Russian paper Kommersant forecasted wide-reaching consequences for all parties involved in Iraq. A bloodless end to the conflict is a crushing defeat for radical cleric Muqtada Sadr, who commanded his troops to lay down their guns and leave the cities of Najaf and Kufa after agreeing to a peace deal with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Al-Sistani sees himself as a national leader, which will not please the Americans who are backing quite different political figures, the paper wrote.

The Swiss paper Basler Zeitung said al-Sistani is Iraq's only hope and he is under enormous pressure. His moral and religious authority is working in his favor and he has been able to retain it by using it wisely, the daily concluded.

Britain's Independent likened al-Sistani's peace mission in Najaf to one last desperate throw of the dice. The immediate question, the paper commented, is whether this agreement will hold and specifically whether Muqtada Sadr retains sufficient authority over his Mehdi army to cede the Imam Ali Shrine, where they made their headquarters.

Turning to Africa, the Financial Times noted that the United Nations deadline for Sudan over the refugee crisis in Darfur falls at the beginning of next week. The UN is in a sticky spot, the paper claimed. The Sudanese government is unlikely to do anything except under international pressure. On the other hand, too much outside pressure would increase hostility towards the United States and other western governments and strengthen hard-liners in the ruling clique. That, the paper explained, could undermine the emerging peace deal in the long-running war over Sudan's largely non-Muslim south, a deal involving hard-to-swallow concessions. The priority, the Financial Times analyzed, must be to create conditions for a broadly similar deal in Darfur.

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