BAGHDAD – A top aide to Muqtada al-Sadr said Saturday that the influential Shiite cleric had reached an agreement with lawmakers aligned with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to end fighting in the Sadr City district of the capital.
The aide, Salah al-Obaidi, said al-Sadr agreed to take his Mahdi Army militia off the streets as early as today in exchange for restrictions on raids and arrests. The agreement also includes provisions to reopen roads into Sadr City and expand government humanitarian assistance, he said.
Obaidi said the deal was reached after several days of discussions between leaders in al-Sadr’s political movement and the United Iraqi Alliance, the majority bloc in Iraq’s parliament.
Ali Dabbagh, chief spokesman for Maliki, said the government supported the agreement but would continue a security operation aimed at ridding Sadr City of gunmen and heavy weapons.
U.S. military officials did not respond to requests for comment about the truce, and Dabbagh said the agreement did not include language calling for the withdrawal of American troops from Sadr City.
Violent clashes have erupted almost daily in Sadr City since late March, leaving as many as 500 people dead and 2,100 injured. The conflict has pitted al-Sadr, who also leads one of Iraq’s most popular Shiite political organizations, against Shiite-led government forces backed by the U.S. military.
The U.S. military has said it has killed more than 200 fighters in the past month in the area, where it says militiamen have fired hundreds of rockets and mortars at U.S. and Iraqi targets.
Meanwhile, al-Maliki launched an operation Saturday in northern Iraq to crack down on Sunni insurgents who have flocked to the city of Mosul after being run out of other provinces.
The operation, dubbed Lion’s Roar, started at 4 a.m. with what Iraqi security forces described as a series of intelligence-driven raids targeting al-Qaida in Iraq and other insurgent groups.
Lt. Gen. Riyadh Jalal Tawfiq said the operation was a continuation of a months-long effort to restore security in Mosul and outlying areas in Nineveh province, where attacks have spiked in recent months as violence in adjacent provinces has decreased.