BAGHDAD, Aug. 27 (UPI) -- Iraqi forces late Friday started exchanging prisoners with the rebel Mehdi army in the holy city of Najaf, CNN reported.
Earlier Friday, members of Sadr's Mehdi army began surrendering their arms to Iraqi police and thousands of worshippers flocked into Najaf.
Sadr issued a statement urging his fighters to lay down their arms in line with his agreement with Sistani, Iraq's highest Shiite religious authority.
At the same time, thousands of Shiite worshippers flocked into the Imam Ali Mosque and mausoleum, which Sadr's armed followers evacuated Friday.
U.S. forces, positioned several miles from the religious center, were not expected to leave Najaf until Sunday, after the complete evacuation and disarmament of the gunmen.
Under the agreement, only Sadr and members of his militia who reside in Najaf will be allowed to stay in the city.
The accord, which ended three weeks of intense fighting, stipulated Iraqi police would take over security in Najaf, the U.S.-led foreign troops would withdraw and residents who suffered losses of life and property would be compensated.