Sadrists strike deal to end Baghdad fighting

Posted in Iraq | 11-May-08 | Source: Gulf in the Media

Agence France-Presse

The movement of anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr said on Saturday it had struck a deal with Iraqi officials to end weeks of fighting in Baghdad that left another 13 people dead overnight.

Sheikh Salah al-Obeidi, the spokesman for the cleric's office in the central shrine city of Najaf, said the deal reached with a government delegation would be effective from Sunday.

"We will stop the fire, stop displaying arms in public and open all the roads leading to Sadr City," Obeidi told AFP.

"This agreement will be executed from tomorrow. The Sadr movement has agreed to the contents of the deal and it has now become an official document.

Obeidi, who took part in the negotiations leading to the clinching of the deal in Baghdad, said the two sides had reached agreement on most issues.

"The two groups agreed on 10 of the 14 points discussed. The agreed points do not include disbanding of Jaish al-Mahdi," he said, referring to Sadr's feared Mahdi Army militia.

The US military launched air strikes against suspected militia targets in the vast slum district of some two million people throughout the night, witnesses and Iraqi medics and security officials said.

"Every 10 minutes or so we heard explosions," said Sadr City resident Hussein Kadhim, 35. "Last night must have been one of the worst nights of fighting in the past month."

A medical source at the Al-Sadr hospital said 77 people were also wounded in the fighting. All of the dead were men but the wounded included women and children.

The US military said only one militant had been killed when it launched an air strike against a man trying to fire a rocket.

"Other than that, there were multiple harassment fire events, both small-arms and rocket-propelled grenades predominantly, throughout the night," a US military statement said, playing down the violence.

"Nothing serious, no injuries or damage."

Since March 25, US and Iraqi forces have been battling militants in Sadr City, mostly from the Mahdi Army. Hundreds of people have died.

An aide to Sadr used his sermon at the main weekly prayers in Sadr City on Friday to criticise Shiite spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani for not speaking out against the death toll from the clashes.

"We are surprised by the silence in Najaf," where the Shiite religious hierarchy is based, Sheikh Sattar Battat said.

"For 50 days, Sadr City has been bombed... Children, women and old people have been killed by all kinds of US weapons, and Najaf remains silent."

Battat complained that there had been no religious decree from the Shiite hierarchy criticising the assault by US and Iraqi government troops on Shiite fighters.

"For us this means that Najaf accepts the massacre in Sadr City," he said.

There was no immediate reaction to the criticism from Sistani's office.

Battat also lashed out at Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki who sparked the current round of fighting by ordering an offensive against Shiite militias in the main southern city of Basra on March 25.

"What the government is doing is a crime against the people," Battat said, accusing the prime minister of "murdering people with the help of a foreign state."

Maliki's government, which is also dominated by Shiites, wants to disband Sadr's militia before October provincial elections.

The Sadr movement says it needs its weapons for self-defence until other Shiite and Sunni groups nurtured by the US military and the Baghdad government are also disarmed.