Sunday, April 20, 2008

Sadr For "Open War if Gov't Abandons Path of Peace"

Al-Manar reports:

At least eight people have been killed and 22 others injured, including women and children, in renewed fighting between joint US-Iraqi forces and Mahdi Army fighters in Sadr City east of Baghdad. A security source said that the fighting that erupted Sunday predawn included US airstrikes on the City.

Loudspeakers at mosques in Baghdad's Sadr City blared out a call to arms soon after Sayyed Moqtada al-Sadr warned of a new uprising by his Mahdi Army, residents said on Sunday.

"They (US) are calling for division. We demand that the siege of Sadr City be lifted." The messages also called on the Iraqi army "not to fight your brothers."

Sayyed Sadr late on Saturday threatened to declare "open war" if the crackdown by Iraqi and US forces against those loyal to him is not stopped.

"I am giving my last warning and my word to the Iraqi government to take the path of peace and stop violence against its own people, otherwise it will be a government of destruction," Sadr said in a statement his office issued in the holy city of Najaf.

"If it does not stop the militias that have infiltrated the government, then we will declare a war until liberation."

Sadr also lashed out at the Iraqi government's alliance with the US military. "The occupation has made us target of its planes, tanks, air strikes and snipers. Without our support this government would not have been formed. But with its alliance with the occupier it (government) is not independent and sovereign as we would like it to be," the cleric said.

The specter of a full-scale uprising by Sadr sharply raises the stakes in his confrontation with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who has threatened to ban the anti-American cleric's movement from political life unless he disbands his militia.

In his statement, Sadr did not refer to the truce, but his spokesman in the holy city of Najaf, Salah al-Ubaidi, said the cleric was not bluffing. "We mean every word."

Iraqi and US forces have been engaged in fierce street battles with the Mahdi Army since March 25 in Sadr City and in the southern city of Basra.

Hundreds of people have been killed and scores wounded since then.