Posted by Damozel | In Iraq, the Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr offered conditions for restoring peace---or let us say, order--- to Basra.(WaPo)
In his statement, Sadr made the offer in exchange for the government stopping "random, illegal raids and arrests." He also called on the government to declare a general amnesty and to release prisoners taken during the fighting, especially his followers.
Sadr's statement stopped short of directing fighters to turn over weapons to Iraqi security forces, which has been a key demand of the government.(WaPo)
He ordered his militia to get off the streets and to cooperate with the government to restore security. American ground troops had joined Iraqi troops in fighting the Sadr's Mahdi Army. (WaPo) When the Iraqi forces came under heavy fire, a US airstrike killed "at least 16 suspected militiamen"; British forces fired artillery in support of the Iraqi forces.(WaPo) Prime Minister Maliki has vowed "to stand up to these gangs in every inch of Iraq." (WaPo) .
According to The L.A.Times, more than 150 people have been killed since Maliki's crackdown began Tuesday "in the violence-plagued southern oil hub of Basra." .(LAT) Fighting spread southward.
Anyway, things seem to be settling down, at least for now.
Moqtada Sadr's statement said: "Because of the religious responsibility, and to stop Iraqi blood being shed, and to maintain the unity of Iraq and to put an end to this sedition that the occupiers and their followers want to spread among the Iraqi people, we call for an end to armed appearances in Basra and all other provinces.
"Anyone carrying a weapon and targeting government institutions will not be one of us." (BBC News)
But nothing in Iraq is ever simple. The L.A. Times reports that about 40 members of the Iraqi army and National Police tried to surrender their weapons to Sadr's representatives.(LAT)
One of the police officers told journalists assembled at Sadr's office that he was heeding a call by an Iraqi cleric based in Iran, Ayatollah Fadhil Maliki, to stop fighting fellow Muslims.
"We came here to tell our brothers, the followers of Sadr, that we will not be against you," said the officer, who was dressed in civilian clothes and had his face covered with a scarf and dark sunglasses.(LAT)
As the article snidely notes, this wasn't quite the surrender that Maliki had in mind. (LAT) Fortunately, Sadr's people refused to accept the weapons; they said that the weapons belonged to the Iraqi government. "Instead, the representatives offered the men olive branches and copies of the Koran."(LAT) That's very sweet.
But Sadr's people aren't quite ready to join hands by giving up their weapons.
Sadr has urged his followers to abide by the truce. But the cleric does not want them to hand over weapons to the current Iraqi government, said Sheik Haider Jabiri, a member of Sadr's political committee based in the Shiite holy city of Najaf.
"They should hand over the weapons to a government that will be able to take out the occupier," said Jabiri, a reference to U.S.-led forces in Iraq. (LAT)
Even so, Sadr has pulled his fighters off the street and Maliki is vowing to remain in Basra till government forces 'wrest control' from the militias..(AP)
Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh...warned in a telephone interview broadcast on Iraqi state TV. that security forces would continue to target those who don't follow the order.
"We expect a wide response to this call," he said. "After this announcement, anybody who targets the government and its institutions will be regarded ... as outlaws."
Cernig has pointed out that Sadr's conditions for cooperation included Maliki and his ministers leaving Basra, along with the withdrawal of US and Iraqi forces. So I don't know what to make of this.
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