Under the direction of US imperialism, the political and religious leaders of Iraq met on August 15 in Baghdad in order to hold the first session of a national conference whose official aim was to organise national elections for 2005. According to the New York Times, "the Americans and the present Iraqi government sought to show, through this conference, that the electoral process is on course despite the violence sweeping the country". This electoral perspective is doomed to total failure. The same New York Times article provided the proof: "the opening day of the conference was more marked by appeals to end the fighting in Najaf than by the future elections". Hardly had the conference begun when two shells fell nearby and forced the proceedings to be suspended. From August 5 on, there has been a clear acceleration of violence all across the country. This was the day that the radical Shia cleric Moqtada-al-Sadr declared holy war against the Americans and British after the latter had arrested four of his followers. Subsequently the US army lay siege to Najaf with the approval of its governor al Zorfi. For several weeks Moqtada's gunmen held out in the mausoleum of Imam Ali, the holiest site for Shiite Muslims the world over. This prompted Sheikh Jawad al-Khalessi, imam of the grand mosque of Kadimiya to announce that "neither this pseudo-governor, a former interpreter to the US army chosen for his ability to obey the maddest of orders, nor the highest religious authorities, have the right to authorise infidels to enter Ali's mausoleum". Fighting then spread to Kut, Amara, Dwaniyah, Nassariyah and Bassorah, as well as Sadr City in Baghdad, with hundreds of casualties, mainly among the Shia militia. Eventually the supreme Shia religious leader al-Sistani negotiated a ceasefire, but it can only be provisional. Iraq is a state in chaos and has no prospect of overcoming it.