BAGHDAD – Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Friday aborted plans to continue raiding Shiite militia strongholds, an apparent attempt to avoid a protracted standoff with powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
Al-Maliki, who on Thursday vowed to send troops into Sadr City and other parts of the capital to root out what he called criminal gangs, said in a statement that he decided against it to maintain a cease-fire reached Sunday after several days of fighting sparked by a government offensive in the southern port city of Basra.
The offensive, and a series of clashes it triggered in Basra and elsewhere, exposed weaknesses among Iraqi troops and led to a level of violence the country had not seen since last spring. The fighting stopped Sunday after al-Sadr asked his men to put down their weapons; his deputies had reached a cease-fire agreement with a delegation of Shiite politicians.
The violence was felt intensely in the fortified Green Zone, where a barrage of rockets fired from eastern Baghdad killed two Americans.
The United Nations said this week that at least 713 people were killed during the clashes, which lasted from March 25 to April 1. The fighting left at least 1,541 people wounded, according to the organization. The majority of victims were civilians, it said.
In his statement, al-Maliki promised financial assistance to relatives of those slain during the offensive and offered to help resettle those who had to flee.
Also on Friday, al-Sadr announced that a march set for Wedneday to protest the presence of U.S. troops will take place in Baghdad rather than the holy city of Najaf, as originally planned. The demonstration, which organizers call a “million-man” protest, will coincide with the second day of testimony on Capitol Hill by Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker.