Cleric's Militia Agrees To Let Iraqi Troops Into Sadr City




 
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Cleric's Militia Agrees To Let Iraqi Troops Into Sadr City
 
May 10th, 2008  
Team Infidel
 
 

Topic: Cleric's Militia Agrees To Let Iraqi Troops Into Sadr City


Cleric's Militia Agrees To Let Iraqi Troops Into Sadr City
Philadelphia Inquirer
May 10, 2008 By Leila Fadel, McClatchy Newspapers
BAGHDAD - Followers of rebel cleric Muqtada al-Sadr agreed late yesterday to allow Iraqi security forces to enter all of Baghdad's Sadr City and to arrest anyone found with heavy weapons in a surprising capitulation that seemed likely to be hailed as a major victory for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
In return, Sadr's Mahdi Army supporters won the Iraqi government's agreement not to arrest Mahdi Army members without warrants, unless they were in possession of "medium and heavy weaponry."
The agreement would end six weeks of fighting in the vast Shiite Muslim area that is home to more than two million residents and would mark the first time that the area would be under government control since Saddam Hussein was toppled in 2003.
Yesterday, 15 people were killed and 112 injured in fighting, officials at the neighborhood's two hospitals said.
It also would be a startling turnaround in fortunes for Maliki, who had been widely criticized for picking a fight with Sadr's forces, first in the southern port city of Basra and then in Sadr City.
Members of Maliki's Dawa Party and the powerful Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq met with Sadr officials Thursday and yesterday to come up with an agreement to end the weeks of fighting, which has hindered the flow of food and water into Sadr City.
The pact was then sent to Sadr and Maliki for final approval, said Baha al-Araji, a Sadrist legislator.
Hundreds of people have been killed and hundreds more wounded in the fighting, which has included frequent U.S. air strikes. At least 8,500 people have been driven from their homes, and thousands of others have been forced to stay inside, too frightened to flee.
A government supporter said the Sadrists were brought to the table by the anger of Sadr City residents. On Thursday, the Iraqi military ordered Sadr City residents to evacuate in apparent preparation for a major offensive push.
"It is not the government who pressured the Sadrists into entering this agreement," said Ali al-Adeeb, a leading member of the Dawa Party. "It is the pressure from the people inside Sadr City and from their own people that will make them act more responsibly."
Like many things in Iraq, the precise effect of the agreement won't be known immediately. Sadr officials long have said that their militia has no heavy weaponry, and Sadr has condemned those with such munitions.
Sadr supporter Araji, however, said the agreement specifically barred U.S. forces from entering Sadr City.
"The Iraqi forces, not the American forces, can come into Sadr City and search for weapons," Araji said. "We don't have big weapons, and we want this to stop."
The Mahdi Army, and the Sadr movement in general, has been losing support in the last two months in the face of a government offensive intended to force the militia from its controlling positions in Basra and Sadr City.
In Basra, a city known for culture and music, Shiite extremists had taken control in late 2005 and began shutting down music stores and forcing women to cover themselves.
But after initially resisting Maliki's offensive, the Sadrists ceded their areas, and the change in atmosphere has been palpable.
An annual poetry festival, al-Mirbed, resumed for the first time in three years, with male and female folk dancers performing in public and poets spouting their verses.
 


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