Monday, April 28, 2008

Iraqi Political Leaders Protest US Siege of Sadr City

t r u t h o u t | 04.28

Iraqi Political Leaders Protest US Siege of Sadr City
By Hussein Kadhim and Raviya H. Ismail
McClatchy Newspapers

Sunday 27 April 2008

Baghdad , Iraq - About 50 leaders representing a variety of Iraqi political blocs took to Baghdad 's Sadr City on Sunday, a stronghold of fiery religious leader Muqtada al Sadr, to protest the U.S.-led siege of that area.

The leaders promised to work together with Sadrists to remove insurgents and weapons in the area. But they also had six other demands of the government, including that it immediately suspend military activity in the city, supply basic services to residents and prioritize peaceful solutions over military conflicts.

"Whatever point the crisis reaches we will keep our efforts to put an end to it," said Ahmed Radhi, a member of the Iraqi Accordance Front, the largest Sunni Muslim bloc. Radhi said the leaders formed a committee to meet with Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki to solve problems plaguing Sadr City .

"We have a delegation meeting with Maliki to let him know the real situation going on in the city," said Nassar al Rubaie, a Sadrist. "We have lawmakers from different blocs and parties to come and watch the situation on the ground."

Lawmakers representing the Iraqi National Accord, the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue and the Kurdish alliance also were present. The leaders said they were moved by pictures of civilian casualties as well as the health crisis plaguing residents in Sadr City .

The protest came just days after Sadr instructed his Mahdi Army militia to stop fighting the mostly Shiite Iraqi security forces in Sadr City and the southern port city of Basra . The U.S.-backed Iraqi forces have continually battled with insurgents in both areas since Maliki led a siege of Basra at the end of March.

Sadr's latest message, delivered during Friday prayers, called for the bloodshed between Iraqis to stop, yet asked for a united force against the U.S. occupation of Iraq .

"We want liberation of ourselves and our lands from the occupier," part of the message read. "To have a real government and have real sovereignty."

There has been relative calm in the east Baghdad slum of Sadr City in the past few days after weeks of pitched battles and bombings between Iraqi security forces and insurgents.

In other areas of Baghdad violence continued. Up to five people were killed in separate bomb attacks and gun battles in the Mansour, Zayuna and Bayaa areas Sunday. Insurgents also fired rockets and mortars into the Green Zone, the heavily fortified compound that houses U.S. and Iraqi administration offices. No casualties were reported.

But the U.S.-backed Iraqi forces in Sadr City are not only fighting Mahdi Army militiamen, said Lt. Col. Steve Stover, the U.S. military spokesman for Baghdad .

"I don't think it's all Muqtada al Sadr (followers) and I don't think everyone is listening to him," Stover said. Insurgents are "continuing to attack us now even since Sadr's last message."

Stover said that while the areas of Rashid and Karrada are fairly quiet, there has been some violence in Sadr City , particularly the southern part of the city. Security forces have provided food, water, medical supplies, generators and stoves to residents there, he said.

"You are going to see life get a lot better for Iraqis in the south part of Sadr City ," he said.

Iraqi Brig. Gen. Qassim Atta echoed Stover's comments, saying security forces are focused on providing services for residents in Sadr City .

"There is no siege in Sadr City ," Atta said during a press conference Sunday. "The movement is normal, except in areas where there are still military operations."


Ismail reports for the Lexington ( Ky. ) Herald-Leader. Shashank Bengali and special correspondent Jinan Hussein contributed.

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Iraq Struggle Unfolds in Peaceful Protest and Violent Attacks in Sadr City
By Alissa J. Rubin and Erica Goode
The New York Times

Monday 28 April 2008

Baghdad - The latest episode in the struggle between the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr and the Iraqi government unfolded Sunday on the streets of Sadr City , where members of Parliament demonstrated peacefully while clashes occurred a few blocks away.

Several hours later, Shiite militiamen in the Sadr City district took advantage of a huge dust storm that enveloped Baghdad, and kept American aircraft grounded, to fire at least a dozen mortar rounds at the Green Zone, the home of the American Embassy and of many Iraqi government officials.

The mix of peaceful protest and armed attacks is characteristic of the many levels on which the Sadr movement and the government are locked in an all-out fight for political advantage. At stake is the outcome of October provincial elections in which other Shiite parties in the government stand to lose seats to Mr. Sadr's supporters.

However, for now, members of Parliament from several parties - with the apparent exception of some of the Shiite blocs that rival Mr. Sadr's - seemed to be trying to transcend the fight for power and focus on the terrible living conditions for residents of Sadr City, the impoverished Shiite neighborhood where militiamen and American and Iraqi troops have fought for more than a month.

"What is different about this delegation is that it is composed of all kinds of Iraqis," said Azzad Barbani, a member of Parliament from the Kurdistan Democratic Party. He was among 40 lawmakers who protested Sunday.

"The situation is so bad," he said. "But from a political point of view, the solution is dialogue, without getting rid of any bloc in Parliament."

Mustafa al-Heeti, a Sunni member of Parliament who led the delegation on Sunday, said, "We want to solve the problem peacefully."

Mr. Heeti, of Anbar Province, said the goal of the protest was to demand an end to the fighting and the withdrawal of military forces. He added that a committee of Sadrists and other members of Parliament hoped to meet with Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to discuss their concerns.

The residents of Sadr City "are Iraqis," he said, "they are very poor people with very few services, and the military action has caused so much loss of life."

Mr. Maliki has said that, before the government will stop its fight, Mr. Sadr must comply with four conditions: hand over heavy weapons; stop fighting the security forces; stop menacing government workers; and hand over outlaws sought by the government.

But on Sunday, an aide to Mr. Sadr in Najaf rejected those terms, accusing the government of trying to resolve political differences by force.

Qassim Atta, a spokesman for the government's effort to restore order in Baghdad, the capital, told a news conference that the government had earmarked $100 million in aid for Sadr City and listed many services that the district would receive. However, it was apparent that little had arrived, primarily because the fighting made it dangerous for city service workers to venture into the worst areas, but also because government officials remained ambivalent about helping a neighborhood where their enemies lived.

Mr. Sadr's officials, however, lost no time in reaching out to beleaguered residents. Hazim al-Araji, a member of Parliament from Mr. Sadr's bloc, announced that Mr. Sadr's offices would compensate families who had lost a close relative and would make payments to those who had been wounded.

While Mr. Araji did not say the exact amount that each family would get, a reporter attending a funeral in Sadr City said the family had received a half million Iraqi dinars, about $425, from an official in Mr. Sadr's office. Seriously wounded people were said to be getting about $200 and those with minor injuries were receiving about $110. Sadr officials were also said to be paying for funerals, which include a three-day period of mourning when relatives and friends come to the home of the bereaved and must be offered food and drink.

In Nasiriya, in southern Iraq, where there has also been fighting between Mr. Sadr's supporters and government troops, a bloc of members of Parliament representing him made a formal visit and drafted a memorandum of understanding between the sides.

At a news conference on Sunday, one of the Sadrist lawmakers, Akram Fawzi said: "The aim of this visit is to solve Nasiriya's troubles. This is an exceptional phase, and it can be ended by cooperation between the different groups in the province."

A car bomb killed three people in the mostly Shiite neighborhood of Shaab in northern Baghdad . Two other car bombings struck the west side of Baghdad , one in Harthiya, an affluent neighborhood, and another in Jamiya.

Mortar shells landed in three Baghdad neighborhoods, killing two people and wounding 18.

In Samarra , a car bomb killed one woman and wounded four other people, including two children, the local police said.

In Muqdadiya, in Diyala Province , a mass grave with at least 50 bodies was discovered in an orchard, officials said. Some of the bodies were badly decayed, but others appeared to have been of people executed recently.

The High Iraqi Criminal Court announced that the chief judge had dismissed four other judges. The criminal court is the new name for the court that tries people connected to former President Saddam Hussein.

"The four judges were dismissed because they had connections with Baath Party," said Munir Haddad, the deputy chief judge of the court. "The decision was made on the 17th of April." He added that it was in accordance with court rules that prohibit anyone with connections to the Baath Party from serving on the court.


Iraqi employees of The New York Times contributed reporting from Baghdad, Baquba, Samarra and Nasiriya.

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