Fighters of Jaish al-Mahdi (al-Mahdi Army) led by Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr on Monday began handing in weapons at the start of a five-day period in which they have agreed to disarm in the Sadr City neighbourhood of Baghdad.

 

At Habibiya police station, the biggest of three designated collection points in Sadr City, cameramen were allowed to film only one batch of arms police said had been brought earlier in a civilian vehicle.

 

The weaponry included RPGs, rusty mortars and artillery shells, anti-tank landmines and assault rifles.

   

"One man brought a Sam-7 anti-aircraft missile," National Guard Captain Duraid Fadil told Reuters, adding that the fighters were receiving $50 for each weapon they surrendered.

 

Big stash

  

One fighter, Kamil Husayn, walked off later with $14,500 for delivering a big stash of RPGs and mortars.

   

But those three handovers were the only ones to take place at Habibiya in the space of three hours.

 

The disarmament is to continue
for five days

Iraqi National Guards, their faces masked to avoid identification, were deployed at the arms collection points.

Earlier, a few hours into the disarmament, Iraqi police at one of three designated arms collection points in Sadr City said they had received only a handful of weapons so far.

Police said fighters had turned in machine guns, TNT paste, landmines and other explosives.

Fighters are supposed to be compensated for the weapons they turn in, but an Iraqi policeman said those responsible for the payments were yet to turn up so receipts were being issued instead, earlier reports said. 

Outside al-Habibiya police station, a pickup truck offloaded 20 grenade launchers and dozens of mortar rounds, while US soldiers supervised from a distance.

No weapons
 
Police at another collection point said no weapons had been turned over in the first few hours.

At the start, a Jaish al-Mahdi source said members were awaiting orders from their leader Muqtada al-Sadr, who is based in the southern city of Najaf, to start turning over their weapons under a deal reached with Iraq's interim government on Saturday.

The disarmament is expected to
end fighting in Sadr City

Jaish al-Mahdi agreed over the weekend to hand in its medium and heavy weapons at three police stations in Sadr City.

The agreement by the group to disarm in its Baghdad stronghold of Sadr City could restore calm in the impoverished area on the north-east edge of Baghdad, which has seen fierce clashes with US forces in recent weeks.

"We have gathered our weapons. We are waiting for the final word to hand them over," the source said.

Commitment

Dr Hani Ashur, an Iraqi political analyst, told Aljazeera: "What really matters is not only handing over arms, but also the commitment of all sides not to cause trouble again." 

"The issue is not the arms, as anyone can possess weapons. The real question is: if both sides are convinced with the agreement since the al-Sadr movement in Iraq is a big one."
 

"The real question is: if both sides are convinced with the agreement..."

Dr Hani Ashur,
political analyst

"Handing over arms is not enough by itself."

In return, the government has promised to start releasing detained Jaish al-Mahdi members.

It has also suspended raids in the north-eastern Baghdad district.

Interim Iraqi vice president Ibrahim al-Jaafari welcomed Monday's handover as a "good and positive initiative".

US army Lieutenant Colonel Gary Volesky said that was not a truce nor was it a ceasefire.

The arms transfer is supposed to last five days, after which Iraqi police and national guardsmen are to assume security responsibility for Sadr City, which is home to more than two million people.