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Iraqi militias protest over raids

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) — Followers of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have called for a nationwide campaign of civil disobedience to protest raids and detentions.

The call on Tuesday came as fighting between Iraqi security forces and members of Sadr’s Mehdi Army in Baghdad and the southern oil port city of Basra threatened to unravel a much-lauded militia cease-fire.

At least 12 people were killed and 32 wounded in the clashes, according to the Interior Ministry.

Sadr imposed a suspension of the Mehdi Army’s activities last summer. That move was hailed by the U.S. military as a major factor in the decrease of violence across Iraq.

But the lull in violence has been threatened lately by military operations targeting militia members, such as recent operations in the southeastern city of Kut, and the arrests of Sadrist movement senior leaders. Watch as Basra violence continues

And that dissatisfaction is threatening the cease-fire. The U.S. military says it and the Iraqi military have been conducting raids against rogue members of the militia that have ignored the cease-fire.

In Baghdad, clashes erupted between militia members and Iraqi soldiers in al-Hamza Square at the edge of Sadr City, the sprawling slum in eastern Baghdad that is a Mehdi Army stronghold. Fighting then spread to other neighborhoods including Shaab and Amin.

In the southern Baghdad neighborhood of Abu Disher, al-Sadr’s office called for citizens to engage in civil disobedience. Stores closed and people took to the streets to protest military operations and arrests. The Interior Ministry said civil disobedience tactics were seen in five Baghdad neighboroods.

The Mehdi Army members appeared on the streets of Mahmoudiya and Yusufiya, towns of south of Baghdad, in a show of force. And in Kut, local authorities imposed a curfew in light of the fighting in Baghdad and Basra.

There were no immediate details about casualties in Baghdad, and officials and clerics issued calls for calm.

In southern Iraq, security forces were battling Shiite militia members in the oil-rich city of Basra — and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was directing the operation, officials said.

Ali Hadi, an official in the al-Maliki’s office, said the prime minister met high-ranking Iraqi security officers before the operation, launched in the early morning hours of Tuesday.

A Basra city council official said the fighting erupted when security forces entered strongholds of the Mehdi Army militia.

Al-Sadr, a powerful and popular figure in Iraq’s Shiite communities, in August announced a six-month suspension of Mehdi Army activity that was renewed last month. Many fighters have heeded the cease-fire, which the U.S. military says has helped reduce violence.

Followers of al-Sadr have also been in the middle of intra-Shiite power struggles in southern Iraqi towns. In Basra, the Sadrists, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, and the Fadhila party have power and influence.

Residents of Basra earlier this month demonstrated for better security in the city, an area where kidnappings, murders and thefts have risen since British troops in December handed over responsibility for the province to Iraqi soldiers and police.
Iraqi militias protest over raids – found here.

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March 25, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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