Last Updated: Mon Nov 01, 2010 20:13 pm (KSA) 17:13 pm (GMT)

Shiite cleric Sadr threatens to end Iraq truce

Sadr imposed the truce after clashes in August (File)
Sadr imposed the truce after clashes in August (File)

Powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr will decide within days whether to extend or scrap his Mahdi Army militia ceasefire, a move that will have big repercussions for security in Iraq.

"In the coming few days he will decide," said his spokesman Salah al-Ubaidi, adding that Sadr would issue a statement around Feb. 23 if he was renewing the truce.

Silence would mean it was over.

U.S. military officials say Sadr's six-month truce order on Aug. 29 has played a big part in reducing sectarian violence and clashes between the militia and U.S. and Iraqi forces.

A return to hostilities could risk those security gains at a time when Iraqi leaders have begun making some progress toward reconciling majority Shiites and minority Sunni Arabs.

Many Mahdi Army members and Sadrist political leaders say they want the truce ditched, accusing the security forces of using it to detain many of Sadr's followers.

The son of a revered Shiite cleric killed under Saddam Hussein, Sadr led two uprisings against U.S. forces in 2004.

He imposed the ceasefire after deadly clashes in August between the Mahdi Army and security forces allied with a rival Shiite organization, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), in the holy city of Karbala killed dozens of people.

Sadr vowed to reorganize the splintered militia, which had also been blamed for much of the sectarian fighting in Baghdad that tipped Iraq close to all-out civil war.

The U.S. military commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, told Reuters last week that he expected the anti-American cleric to extend the freeze. A senior official in the Shiite-led administration had been told the same thing.

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