(AFP) – May 10, 2008
BAGHDAD (AFP) — Anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's movement and the Iraqi government on Saturday announced a deal to end weeks of fighting which has killed hundreds of people in Baghdad.
Sheikh Salah al-Obeidi, spokesman for the cleric's office in the central shrine city of Najaf, said the deal to end the firefights in the movement's east Baghdad stronghold of Sadr City 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."
Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government supports the agreement and "calls upon everybody to commit themselves to the agreement."
"The agreement contains 14 points representing the government's vision to end public displays of arms, clean Sadr City of bombs, and enforce law in Sadr City," Dabbagh said in a statement.
He said the accord gave powers to the security forces to "raid and search any place it suspects there are heavy and medium weapons" in Sadr City.
Obeidi, who took part in the negotiations that led to the deal being clinched in Baghdad, said the agreement did "not include disbanding Jaish al-Mahdi" -- Sadr's feared Mahdi Army militia.
Maliki wants to disband the Mahdi Army 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.
Obeidi confirmed that the agreement gave powers to government forces "to make raids and searches (in Sadr City) for those who are wanted, but by following the principles of human rights."
The Sadr movement has repeatedly accused the security forces of randomly arresting its leaders.
The deal is expected to end fighting in Sadr City which had threatened to wipe out security gains made in the capital since late last year.
Before the latest deal was agreed, at least 13 more people were killed and 77 more were wounded in overnight fighting in the Shiite district, 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."
The US military gave lower casualty figures, and said that six militants were killed in two air strikes in and around Sadr City.
Since March 25, US and Iraqi forces have been battling militants, mostly from the Mahdi Army, in the sprawling Shiite district. Hundreds of people have been killed.
The fighting broke out after Maliki ordered a crackdown on Shiite militiamen in the southern port city of Basra on March 25.
The military assault triggered widespread clashes in Shiite areas of Iraq, but particularly in Sadr City.
Meanwhile, military officials said that Iraqi soldiers backed by US troops began a "new phase" in operations against Al-Qaeda in Iraq in the northern province of Nineveh which shares borders with Syria and Turkey.
"This Iraqi-planned and Iraqi-led series of operations continues to be closely supported by coalition forces," a US military official said.
There were no immediate reports of arrests or casualties in the drive launched on Saturday.
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