Monday, March 31, 2008

Update on developments in Iraq

Sadr Fighters Withdraw from Baghdad, Basra Streets

Muslim Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has ordered his Mahdi Army fighters on Monday to withdraw from the streets in a move signaling the end of clashes which erupted in the southern port city of Basra and quickly spread to areas across Iraq.

The Sadr group in Baghdad confirmed that fighters from Mahdi Army were no longer deployed in the capital. "Sadr movement and Jaish al-Mahdi (Mahdi Army) are committed to the order of Sadr," said Hamdallah al-Rikabi, spokesman of the cleric's movement in western Baghdad.

"But we are ready, should the Americans come inside our district, to fight. We have enough IEDs (improvised explosive devices) for them. If they come, we will defend ourselves", Haider al-Asadi, a fighter from the Mahdi Army, said. Asadi added that the US troops were on the edge of the neighborhood and had "deployed snipers on the rooftops of houses."

Witnesses said pedestrians and vehicles were now on the streets of the two cities after curfews were eased. "Life is back to normal in Sadr City," said Ahmed Suhail, a resident of the eastern Baghdad district and bastion of Sadr where intense fighting killed dozens of people. Authorities lifted the curfew across Baghdad but still retained it in the Baghdad districts of Sadr City, Kadhimiyah and Shuala amid continuing tensions.

At the meantime, a volley of rockets smashed into Baghdad's fortified Green Zone on Monday hitting at least five people, including an Iraqi army major and two US soldiers, a witness said. The rockets struck near a checkpoint in the complex, which is the seat of the Iraqi government and home to most foreign embassies, said Muhanned al-Dulaimi, who counts himself lucky to have survived the attack. There was no immediate confirmation of the attack from the US embassy.

Mortars hit 5 in Baghdad Green Zone

At least five people have been hit by a volley of six mortars which smashed into Baghdad's fortified Green Zone, the police say.

The rockets struck near a checkpoint in the complex, which houses Iraq's government and the US Embassy, said Muhanned al-Dulaimi who witnessed the event on Monday.

"The rockets hit the ground near the checkpoint. The sirens were sounding. I saw five people lying on the ground. Two of them were American soldiers, two were civilians and one was an Iraqi army major," he explained.

Al-Dulaimi was unable to determine whether the casualties were dead or wounded.

The Green Zone has come under intense mortar and rocket attack over the past week as Mahdi Army fighters have battled Iraqi and US security forces in the capital and in southern Iraq.

MP Hails Sadr Ceasefire Order

NAJAF, Iraq, March 31--An Iraqi parliamentarian hails Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's order to demilitarize its loyalists to bring a halt to the military clashes extended in southern Iraqi city of Basar.

In an interview with Alalam, Legha Ale Yasin said that in case of no military or political interference by occupier forces, more agreements could be settled to bring an extensive peace and security in the region.

"Yet Sadr movement has fulfilled its entire obligation in demilitarizing its fighters. So it expects the government to bring an end to its random raids targeting his loyalists," she said.

The official also urged the US-led forces to stop their raids against Iraqi settlements as well as public utilities during which hundreds of civilians have lost their lives.

"The government is obliged to prevent occupiers' more military incursions too, because Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, as a supreme commander of the armed forces, is the sole person who should accept responsibility of any further Iraqi bloodshed," she added.

Al-Sadr ordered his Mahdi Army militia to stop fighting government forces and urged them to cooperate to stop "Iraqi bloodshed" and "achieve security."

The cleric called on the government to apply the general amnesty law, end random raids targeting his loyalists and release detainees.

Shops and markets were opening and vehicles could be seen amid a big troop deployment in the oil-rich city.

Estimates of the death toll since the outbreak of violence vary. As many as 250 people died and over 500 were injured in Basra, according to medical sources.