Iraq agrees to truce with Sadr militia
Baghdad, May 10, 2008
Iraq's government on Saturday agreed to a truce with the movement of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr to halt weeks of fighting in eastern Baghdad between Shi'ite militia and security forces, officials said.
The truce could end violence that has killed several hundred people, trapped the 2 million residents of Sadr City in a battle zone and prompted aid workers to warn of a humanitarian crisis.
But it is unclear how much control the anti-American Sadr has over many of the militiamen who claim allegiance to him in Sadr City, stronghold of his Mehdi Army militia.
"Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki has approved this agreement," government spokesman Ali Al-Dabbagh said. "The Iraqi government calls on all parties to commit to this deal, to be calm and show self-restraint."
The US military declined to make any immediate comment. Dabbagh said the agreement called for militiamen to hand in their medium and heavy weapons.
He did not elaborate but this would include rocket and mortar launchers, which have been used to fire hundreds of shells at the Green Zone government and diplomatic compound since Maliki ordered a crackdown on militias in late March.
Sadr spokesman Salah al-Ubaidi told Reuters the deal had been made through the Sadr movement's bloc in parliament and the ruling Shi'ite alliance.
He said he expected the pact to take effect either tonight or Sunday with a total halt to all Iraqi military activity for four days.
But much will depend on the militiamen who have been roaming the teeming streets of Sadr City.
US helicopters have been hovering over Sadr City 24 hours a day, hunting rocket and mortar crews. It was unclear if Maliki had ordered the US military to stop offensive operations.
"The prime minister will decide whether there is a need for U.S. forces (in Sadr City)," Dabbagh said.
Bahaa Al-Araji, a senior parliamentarian from Sadr's movement, said the faction wanted no US troops there.
"We accept Iraqi security forces can enter the city but we want no foreign forces," he said. Most U.S. ground troops have stayed in an area around the southern portion of the slum.-Reuters