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Iraqi forces call on Shiite militias to hold truce

Iraq's security forces urged the movement of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr on Wednesday to do more to ensure a truce took hold in Baghdad and offered cash rewards for militiamen who gave up their weapons.
/ Source: news services

Iraq's security forces urged the movement of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr on Wednesday to do more to ensure a truce took hold in Baghdad and offered cash rewards for militiamen who gave up their weapons.

Major-General Qassim Moussawi, spokesman for Iraqi security forces in Baghdad, said gunmen were still attacking troops in the capital despite a weekend agreement to end nearly two months of fighting that has killed hundreds of people. The goal was to disarm the militias, Moussawi said.

Clashes broke out in Baghdad overnight and on Wednesday, police said, killing seven people and wounding 28.

West of Baghdad, Iraqi police said a suicide bomber killed 22 people and wounded at least 35 at the funeral of a Sunni school principal.

The bomber blew himself up in a funeral tent in the village of Abu Minasir. The funeral was for a grammar school principal who was shot and killed Tuesday.

Many Sunnis opposed to al-Qaida were at the funeral.

‘At the zero stage’
Many Shiite gunmen claim loyalty to the anti-American al-Sadr, but his control over them is unclear.

"So far we are still at the zero stage. Nothing has been done to implement the agreement on the ground," Moussawi told a news conference.

"We expect our brothers in the Sadr bloc to help our forces implement the agreement .. Some centers will be opened to offer money to those who hand over guns willingly."

Al-Sadr's opposition political movement in parliament and the ruling Shiite alliance brokered the agreement to end the fighting over the weekend.

Despite the fresh violence, residents in al-Sadr's eastern Baghdad stronghold of Sadr City and the U.S. military said it was calmer there on Tuesday night compared to recent weeks.

Police said gunmen fought security forces in Sadr City overnight in violence that killed five people and wounded 22 in the crowded slum. Fighting also broke out in western Baghdad's Shula district, killing two and wounding six, police said.

Heavy automatic weapon fire echoed through the streets of Shula, also a stronghold of Sadr's Mahdi Army militia, on Wednesday. Shops were closed and residents stayed indoors.

A senior political aide to Sadr has urged patience with the truce and said it might take time to take effect.

Al-Maliki flies to Mosul
Fighting flared in late March when Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, himself a Shiite, ordered a crackdown against Shiite militias in Baghdad and the southern city of Basra.

Al-Maliki says the campaign is designed to impose law and order. He has also ordered an offensive against Sunni Islamist al-Qaida militants in northern Nineveh province.

Al-Maliki flew to the Nineveh capital of Mosul on Wednesday to review the campaign, officials said, without giving details.

The U.S. military says Mosul is al-Qaida's last major urban stronghold in Iraq, after earlier offensives pushed the group out of Baghdad and western Anbar province.

A spokesman for U.S. forces in Baghdad, Lieutenant-Colonel Steven Stover, said Sadr City was more peaceful on Wednesday.

"According to ... soldiers on the ground it was relatively quiet (overnight)," he said. The only incident he knew of was a U.S. air strike on three men planting a roadside bomb. The missile killed two of them, he said.

"We welcome the reduced levels of violence," Stover said.

Mudhafar Nuri, a 35-year-old laborer who lives in the Sadr City slum, also welcomed the calmer conditions.

"Last night was a quiet one. This is the first time we have witnessed such calm, without any bombardment," he said.

Salam Nassir, a member of the Mahdi Army, said his fighters had been told not to hinder Iraqi army operations.

"We received orders from the al-Sadr offices not to obstruct the job of the forces no matter what they do to us. But the Iraqi army should be more professional so people cooperate."