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Shiite cleric threatens to end militia’s cease-fire, cancels protest

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) — Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called off a mass demonstration for Wednesday in Baghdad and threatened to formally end the seven-month cease-fire of his Mehdi Army militia.

Fighting in al-Sadr’s Baghdad stronghold of Sadr City stretched into its third consecutive day Tuesday. At least 36 people have been killed and 139 wounded, an Interior Ministry official said.

Eight of the 11 U.S. troops killed in Iraq on Sunday and Monday died in fighting in Baghdad.

Four U.S. soldiers were killed Monday in the capital, the U.S. military said.

One soldier was killed by a roadside bomb, two by a rocket-propelled grenade and one by small-arms fire after a roadside bomb detonated near his vehicle during a patrol in eastern Baghdad, the U.S. military said.

The deaths bring the U.S. death toll in the Iraq war to 4,024, including eight civilian Defense Department contractors.

Fighting in eastern Baghdad between U.S. troops and Shiite militiamen — particularly those from al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army — has intensified in recent days. Watch how a Mehdi stronghold turned out to be peaceful

Militants have been firing rockets, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars at patrols in Sadr City and other neighborhoods and into the bastion of U.S. power in Iraq known as the Green Zone, the U.S. military said.

Also, the government is continuing its offensive against what it calls criminal elements in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, a stronghold of the Mehdi Army.

The Iraqi government should know that the Mehdi Army will be hand in hand with the Iraqi people to provide them with all security, stability, independence, liberation, unity … that they need, al-Sadr said on his Web site. And if interest requires ending the freeze to implement our goals, beliefs, religion, principles and nationalism, we will do that later.

Al-Sadr last week urged a million people to take to the streets of the capital on Wednesday, the fifth anniversary of the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime, to protest the U.S. presence in Iraq.

Saleh al-Ageili, a spokesman for al-Sadr’s parliamentary bloc, said Tuesday that protesters heading to Baghdad from Najaf were being prevented by security forces from taking part in al-Sadr’s demonstration.

He said the government was restricting the protest to Sadr City, even though the demonstration was planned for a wider area in the capital.

Al-Ageili said 200 cars carrying protesters from Najaf to Baghdad were stuck in Hilla, in Babil province. A source from Hilla police said they had received orders from Baghdad to block males between the ages of 12 and 35 from proceeding to Baghdad from Monday at 6 p.m. until Thursday at 6 a.m.

That was before al-Sadr called off the demonstration.

I call on the beloved Iraqi people who wish to demonstrate against the occupation to postpone this because I am worried about them and want to preserve their blood, al-Sadr said on his Web site.

Al-Sadr said the Iraqi government’s security presence shows that it is under American pressure.

Government forces dominated by a rival Shiite movement, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, planned to begin house-to-house weapons confiscations in Basra and in Baghdad neighborhoods.

The Sadrist movement used to be part of the Shiite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance coalition, which includes Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Dawa party and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq. It helped put al-Maliki in power.

But the group bolted from the coalition last year, and six Sadrists left their Cabinet posts because al-Maliki wouldn’t set a timeline for U.S. troop withdrawal. The Sadrists are active in parliament, where they have 30 seats.

In his Web site message, al-Sadr urged the Iraqi government to take several steps, including setting a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops.

Work to protect the Iraqi people and stop wasting their blood and dignity and to protect them from the despised sectarianism and political parties’ influence that have become rampant within its ranks, he said.

He urged the government to protect the Iraqi people from the car bombs and American militias that are disguised in the cover of ‘companies,’ an apparent reference to private security contractors such as Blackwater.

Al-Maliki continued his hard line on the Sadrists on Sunday, when he laid down an ultimatum for al-Sadr to disband his Mehdi Army or see his supporters barred from public office.

The Sadrists say any effort to bar them from political participation would be unconstitutional — and that any decision to disband the Mehdi Army is not the government’s to make.

Al-Sadr spokesman Salah al-Obeidi said al-Sadr has consulted with Iraq’s Shiite clerical leadership and they refused that. He did not provide details of the talks.
Shiite cleric threatens to end militia’s cease-fire, cancels protest – found here.

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April 8, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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