Hasty truce with Moqtada al-Sadr tests his sway in Baghdad stronghold
A cease-fire deal between Mr. Sadr's representatives in the Iraqi government and members of the leading Shiite bloc aims to end weeks of fierce battles in Sadr City.
A cease-fire deal to end seven weeks of fighting in Sadr City could provide the clearest test yet of just how much sway the anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has over armed militants operating inside his sprawling bastion of support in Baghdad.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The truce, accepted by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki Saturday after being negotiated between the United Iraqi Alliance of ruling Shiite political parties and representatives of the Mr. Sadr's movement, is supposed to end the daily fighting that has claimed more than 1,000 lives in the vast Shiite slum.
The agreement allows government security forces to enter any part of Sadr City to arrest anyone with heavy weapons such as mortars and rocket launchers. Sadr has said his Mahdi Army militia is a defensive necessity, but that it does not use heavy weapons.
The truce was hastily reached as Mr. Maliki's government announced a new offensive in Mosul against forces affiliated with Al Qaeda in Iraq. Maliki has said since January that he would take the fight against Al Qaeda to the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, believed to be the group's last urban stronghold in Iraq. Some Iraqi government officials have suggested that Maliki wanted the battle with Shiite militias quieted before the Mosul offensive.
The Sadr City agreement does not call for the disarming or disbanding of the Mahdi Army, which was Maliki's demand that touched off fighting between his forces and the militia in late March. But it does call on Mahdi Army fighters to keep their weapons out of public view. All explosives planted in the streets of Sadr City are to be removed and the launching of rockets and mortars from the area – scores of which hit Iraqi and US government buildings in the Green Zone over recent weeks – is to stop.
Those attacks on the Green Zone drew the US military into the Sadr City fight, though US officials, including US Commander in Iraq Gen. David Petraeus, had encouraged Maliki to find a negotiated solution to the differences with Sadr. At the same time, US military officials have increasingly blamed the violence in Sadr City on "criminals," "gangs," and "special groups" trained and armed by Iran, and less on JAM, the acronym for the Sadr militia's Arabic name.