Al-Sadr ceasefire allows troops to enter Shia slum

The anti-American Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is the great survivor of Iraqi politics. In a tactical retreat he yesterday authorised a ceasefire under which the Iraqi army, but not US troops, will enter the great Shia slum of Sadr City in Baghdad while Mr Sadr's Mehdi Army militia will stop firing rockets and mortars into the fortified Green Zone.

The ceasefire agreement is intended to end seven weeks of fighting in which more than 1,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed during US-backed Iraqi government offensives against Mehdi Army strongholds in Basra and Baghdad. The Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, has emerged strengthened by his confrontation with the Mehdi Army, but the Sadrists survive to fight another day. "We have agreed on a ceasefire and to end displaying arms in public," said Salah al-Obeidi, spokesman for Mr Sadr. "But we did not agree to disbanding the Mehdi Army or handing over its weapons."

Mr Maliki launched an ill-co-ordinated attack on the Mehdi Army in Basra on 25 March that made no headway until supported by US firepower. Mr Sadr ordered his militiamen off the streets after a week's fighting to avoid an all out confrontation with his US-backed Shia rivals.

The Iraqi government is increasingly confident that it has the upper-hand over its enemies in both the Shia and Sunni communities. It launched a further operation, called "the Roar of the Lion", against al-Qa'ida in the northern city of Mosul on Saturday, deploying 15,000 troops to seal off the city, and yesterday banned all vehicles from the streets.

The feared "Scorpion Brigade" of Interior Ministry troops raided 79 houses, though most were empty. Mosul, a city of 1.4 million, the majority Sunni Arabs, is at the centre of a network of roads which make it easy to take refuge in Syria or escape to other parts of Iraq. "It will be difficult [to eliminate the insurgents] unless the Syrians ...control the border," said the Kurdish leader Saadi Pire.

The Iraqi army operations in Mosul are supported by US helicopters. American forces played a central role in the fighting in Sadr City and Basra. The US will be pleased by the greater effectiveness of the Iraqi government and army. Eighteen months ago, Washington was considering getting rid of Mr Maliki because he was seen as ineffectual. But it will also be alarmed by the increasing role of Iran in arranging the latest ceasefire in Baghdad yesterday and an earlier ceasefire which ended the fighting in Basra.

Ali al-Adee, a member of the ruling Shia alliance of Mr Maliki who went as part of a delegation to Iran seeking an agreement with the Sadrists, said: "The Iranians gave a positive response to the demands made by the delegation. They gave those demands to the Sadrist decision-makers because they have influence on them."

Mr Sadr is the one Shia leader who has opposed the US occupation since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and has, in return, been detested by American military commanders, politicians and diplomats. But Lt Gen Ricardo Sanchez, the US commander in Iraq in 2003-4, says in his recently published memoirs Wiser in Battle that President George Bush personally ordered Mr Sadr to be captured or killed.

Mr Bush gave the order during a video conference on 7 April 2004 just after the US envoy Paul Bremer had started a crackdown on the Sadrists and they had responded with an uprising during which they had taken over much of southern Iraq.

In General Sanchez's account, Mr Bush said: "The Mehdi Army is a hostile force. We can't allow one man [Sadr] to change the course of the country. At the end of this campaign Sadr must be gone. At a minimum he will be arrested. It is essential he be wiped out."

In an extraordinary outburst, recorded by General Sanchez, Mr Bush said: "Stay strong! Stay the course! Kill them! Prevail! We are going to wipe them out! We are not blinking!"

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
The two faces revealed by the ultraviolet light
newsScholars left shaken after shining ultraviolet light on 500-year-old Welsh manuscript
News
Rosamund Pike played Bond girld Miranda Frost, who died in Die Another Day (PA)
news
Arts and Entertainment
books
News
newsHow do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? With people like this
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: In House Counsel - Contracts

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading supplier of compliance software a...

Recruitment Genius: Associate System Engineer

£24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Associate System Engineer r...

Recruitment Genius: Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Executive Assistant is required to join a l...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat