Al-Sadr tells militias to suspend attacks
BAGHDAD, Iraq – Rebel cleric Muqtada al-Sadr wants his followers to end their uprising against U.S. and Iraqi forces while he considers forming a political movement, senior al-Sadr officials said Monday.
Al-Sadr has backed off other commitments in the past, but a truce would be a major victory for interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi by removing a serious insurgency and potentially bringing many of the Shiite cleric’s followers into the effort to build a peaceful democracy.
The announcement came amid conflicting reports on Iraq’s vital oil exports. Iraqi oil officials and the governor of Basra state said exports were shut down after a rash of pipeline attacks. However, world oil prices decreased as traders said other reports suggested some oil was still flowing. At the New York Mercantile Exchange, October contracts for light sweet crude fell 90 cents a barrel to $42.28 – well below peaks above $48 a barrel in mid-August.
Also Monday, the U.S. military said a roadside bomb attack on a U.S. military convoy just outside Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, killed a U.S. soldier and wounded two. A total of 974 U.S. service members have died Since military operations began in March 2003, according to the U.S. Defense Department.
Sheik Ali Smeisim, a political adviser to al-Sadr, announced the cease-fire decision in Najaf, calling on the cleric’s Mahdi Army militiamen to “stop firing until the announcement of the political program adopted by the Sadrist movement.”
He also urged U.S. and Iraqi troops to move out of the center of Iraqi cities, although that did not appear to be a condition for the unilateral cease-fire. Asked if the truce would take effect immediately, Smeisim said, “I hope so.”
A-Sadr had posed the biggest challenge yet to Allawi’s government, with three weeks of heavy fighting in Najaf threatening to enflame Iraqi Shiites by endangering the Imam Ali Shrine.
A peace deal mediated by Iraq’s top Shiite religious leader ended the fighting in Najaf last week, but clashes have continued elsewhere. Al-Sadr’s aides and Iraqi government officials met in Baghdad on Monday to try to negotiate an end to violence that has wracked the capital’s Sadr City slum.
The government has repeatedly called on al-Sadr to disband the Mahdi Army and join politics. His aides didn’t say whether he was considering dissolving the militia, but for the first time they said he was preparing to enter politics.
“This latest initiative shows that we want stability and security in this country by ending all confrontation in all parts of Iraq,” said Sheik Raed al-Khadami, an al-Sadr spokesman in Baghdad. “Al-Sadr’s office in Najaf will issue a call within the next two days to join the political process.”
That would help bring legitimacy to elections scheduled for January, but Allawi’s government also still faces a 16-month-old insurgency among Iraq’s Sunni Muslim minority,.