by Nagem Salam
(IPS) BAGHDAD -- Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has ordered his militia to cease fighting as a step towards his entering the political arena, but the peace deal remains fragile amidst uncertainty and sporadic violence.
"We call on it [the Iraqi government] to pull the occupation forces and Iraqi army out from the centre of the cities," Sheikh Ali Simaism, political representative for al-Sadr's office, said in Najaf. "At the same time, we call on the Mehdi army fighters to cease fire unless in self-defense."
It has not been that simple. Fighting in Najaf has been brought to a tentative end after a deal brokered by the revered Shia Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, but violence continued through the weekend and into this week in the sprawling Sadr City area of Baghdad.
As the keys to the Imam Ali shrine in Najaf were turned over to al-Sistani in symbolic acceptance of the peace agreement, fighting between U.S. forces and those of al-Sadr left three dead and 25 injured in Sadr City, said Saad al-Amili, an Iraqi Ministry of Health official.
With speakers in Humvees blaring, "Coalition forces are cleaning the area of armed men," U.S. soldiers drove through the predominantly Shia Sadr City asking people to stay in their homes.
Captain Brian O'Malley of the 1st Brigade Combat Team said al-Sadr followers fired rocket-propelled grenades at U.S. troops patrolling the area.
Violence broke out after talks between the U.S.-appointed Iraqi interim government and aides of al-Sadr failed over the Mehdi army's weapons stocks. Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi has vowed to "crush" fighters who refuse to disarm.
Sheikh Abdul Jawad Sada who is among a negotiating delegation of 18 tribal sheikhs in Sadr City said that despite hours of negotiations the U.S. soldiers had refused to leave the area. "We told them we wanted a ceasefire, we wanted Iraqi police and military to replace them and we asked that they withdraw their troops to their bases outside of Sadr City," said Sheikh Sada.
"We assured them that they could leave without our troops attacking them, asked that they release prisoners related to Sadr City and pay compensation to the people here who have been harmed by the fighting," he said. Sheikh Sada said the U.S. forces wanted the Mehdi army to disarm and disband immediately.
Under the plan brokered by al-Sistani, al-Sadr is allowed to keep his militia.
"We don't believe the American troops," Sheikh Sada said. "They are liars and we cannot depend on them."
The Sheikh says conditions in Sadr City are deplorable. "It has never been this bad here. Everything is smashed; we have had no water since the fighting in Najaf started weeks ago, sewage is covering our streets, there is no electricity, and most people here are jobless." He says the presence of the Mehdi army in Sadr City is beneficial because "they are the people who saved the hospitals from the looting after the invasion. They help the people in many ways. They are good people."
Sadr City police chief Col. Maaruf Alami told reporters that a ten-point plan drafted by Iraqi national security adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubaiay was given to the office of al-Sadr Monday.
The document called for a seven-day truce and demands that U.S. forces cease targeting fighters loyal to al-Sadr. It also calls for U.S. forces to enter the Shia neighborhood only for reconstruction or to compensate residents. The plan calls for foreign forces to withdraw and for the Iraqi police to patrol the area, as they do in Najaf and Kufa.
Anger against the presence of U.S. forces continues to brew in Najaf and Baghdad. Many Iraqis are once again blaming U.S. occupiers for the violence and instability everywhere. Abdul Weesam, a 36-year-old Sunni electrical engineer who drives his car as a taxi to feed his family, blames the U.S.-appointed governor of Najaf, Adnan al-Zorfi, for the recent violence.
"The governor of Najaf was appointed by the Americans, and this was the start of the problems there. He is responsible for the problems there, not al-Sadr," said Weesam.
"The Americans are doing so many bad things here in Iraq," exclaimed Hammad Arkan, an unemployed trader in central Baghdad. "The Americans are the terrorists, and they have shown this once again by their actions in Najaf."
September 1, 2004 (http://www.albionmonitor.net) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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