A few hours earlier today, Ajmed al-Shaibany, al-Sadr's spokesman in Najaf, said: "We receive with pleasure the initiative of the Pope in the Vatican and we ask him to intervene to resolve the crisis."

Father Ciro Benedettini, assistant director of the Vatican press office, confirmed that "the Holy See is always ready to help the parties so that they can talk and dialogue, on the condition that there really is a will to undertake peaceful ways for the solution of conflicts."

"As is known, the apostolic nuncio in Baghdad is following firsthand the development of the situation and the Vatican Secretariat of State continues to be in close contact both with him as well as with the Chaldean patriarch and the country's episcopate," Father Benedettini added.

On Monday, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state, expressed in a radio interview the Holy See's willingness to provide its "good offices" so that those involved will engage in a dialogue to make possible a peaceful way out.

Archbishop Fernando Filoni, apostolic nuncio in Iraq, said that for now "it is impossible to make predictions; it is necessary to wait and see what happens."

"If [al-Sadr] shows his own willingness to find a peaceful solution to the conflict, we will have to accept it, but it is useless to make predictions until he clarifies his real intentions," the papal representative told AsiaNews.

Militants loyal to al-Sadr have been confronting U.S. and Iraqi forces in Najaf since Aug. 5. Today, a U.S. warplane bombed near Najaf's vast cemetery as fighting with Shiite militants intensified.