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11 December 2023

Al Sadr keeps Iraq guessing over ceasefire renewal

By Agencies

Radical Shia cleric Moqtada Al Sadr is keeping Iraq guessing over whether he will order a renewal of his Mahdi Army militia's ceasefire when it expires at the end of the month.


"All possibilities are open, there is no decision so far," said the spokesman for Sadr's office in the central shrine city of Najaf, Sheikh Salah Al Obeidi.


"We cannot say anything because the decision is entirely up to him," Obeidi told AFP.


Sadr on August 29 ordered a six-month freeze in the activities of his militia after allegations that his fighters were involved in bloody clashes in the shrine city of Karbala, near Najaf.


Powerful Sadrists, including those representing the movement in parliament, have urged him not to renew the truce because, they say, Mahdi Army members and other Sadrists are being specially targeted by Iraq's security forces.


Militiamen in Sadr City, the cleric's bastion in eastern Baghdad, complain that they are, furthermore, being singled out for raids and detentions by the US military.


Sadr on Thursday urged militiamen to continue obeying his orders not to attack US forces and warned that anyone doing so will be expelled from the 60,000-strong Mahdi Army, one of Iraq's most powerful militias.


Obeidi was insistent on Tuesday that this was not an indication that Sadr was planning to renew the freeze.


"The decision is up to Sadr only and nothing has been released from him yet," he said.


The suspension of the militia's activities is cited by US commanders as one of the factors behind a 62 per cent reduction in violent attacks across Iraq since June. (AFP)