Ceasefire reported in Sadr City

Shiite groups brokered a reported ceasefire today with militants fighting US and Iraqi forces in Baghdad’s Sadr City as the country’s army launched an offensive against al-Qaida’s main bastion in Iraq – the northern city of Mosul.

Sheikh Salah al-Obeidi, an aide to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, said the cease-fire will go into effect tomorrow. The ceasefire may not necessarily end the seven-week old clashes in Sadr City, the stronghold of al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army, however, as US military has blamed clashes on breakaway groups.

It is not believed that the bulk of the 60,000-strong Mahdi Army has participated in the clashes. Instead it is just splinter groups that have refused to honour a general ceasefire ordered by al-Sadr last August. Al-Sadr has directed his supporters to only fight when attacked.

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh in a statement today expressed the government’s support for efforts “that aims at achieving order and security in Sadr City.”

“The agreement represents the government’s vision to end armed displays and purge al-Sadr City from roadside bombs and mines and impose the law in the city,” al-Dabbagh said.

“Iraqi security forces are the only force to achieve this and the government has the right to raid and search any place suspected of possessing heavy or medium weapons,” al-Dabbagh said. “The government is also committed to chase all wanted people under the supervision of the prime minister.”

The newly announced ceasefire comes after government-backed Shiite envoys set strict demands for Shiite militias to end their battles against Iraqi and US forces in a meeting with al-Sadr’s supporters on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Maj Gen Riyadh Jalal Tawfiq, the commander of military operations in the northern city of Mosul, issued a statement today to announce that the operation “Lion’s Roar” against al-Qaida in Iraq was under way.

Mosul was considered the last important urban staging ground for al-Qaida in Iraqi and allied groups after losing its strongholds in Baghdad and other areas during the US troop “surge” last year.

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