Curfew partially lifted in Baghdad

Restrictions lifted after Shia leader orders al-Mahdi Army to withdraw from streets.

    Iraqi civilians were unable to move freely in 
    Baghdad due to a wide-ranging curfew [AFP]
    A curfew in Baghdad was lifted in most parts of the city at 6am (0300 GMT) on Monday, permitting civilians to go out for the first time since Thursday.


    However, restrictions remained in place in three predominantly Shia neighbourhoods, including Sadr City.


    James Bays, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Baghdad, said on Monday that al-Sadr's fighters were observing his order to stay off the streets.


    But although civilians have ventured out on to the streets of the capital they remain nervous that fighting will flare up again, he said.


    Negotiations held

    At least 300 people have reportedly died since an Iraqi military crackdown in Basra on Tuesday sparked fighting across the country.
    The operation was aimed at disarming the city's warring Shia militias, including the al-Mahdi Army, as well as crushing a number of criminal gangs.

    The fighting has severely disrupted the lives of 
    Iraqi civilians in Sadr City [AFP]

    The government welcomed al-Sadr's decision, which followed intense negotiations involving al-Sadr himself, Al Jazeera understands.


    Two Shia legislators also reportedly travelled to Iran to ask religious authorities there to intervene.


    Nuri al-Maliki, Iraq's prime minister, called al-Sadr's statement "a step in the right direction".


    Al-Maliki had personally supervised the operation in Basra against the militias.


    "We came here [to Basra] to pursue criminal gangs and murderers ... our forces were not ready for this battle and we were surprised," he told al-Iraqiya, a state television service, on Monday.


    "All those who continue to carry weapons and posses heavy weapons will be our target."


    Government warning


    Al-Sadr's nine-point plan, agreed with the Iraqi government, was issued by his headquarters in the city of Najaf and broadcast through loudspeakers on Shia mosques.

    The main elements of the plan were that al-Sadr's al-Mahdi Army forces should leave the streets in return for the Iraqi government's guarantee that it would not arrest the group's fighters unless they have arrest warrants for them, Bays said.
    The deal means that Al-Sadr loyalists have kept hold of their weapons in Basra despite the best efforts of government forces to take control of the city.


    Ali al-Dabbagh, an Iraqi government spokesman, told the Reuters news agency on Sunday that despite al-Sadr's order, Iraqi troops would continue military operations against "criminals" in Basra.

    A curfew in place in Basra was eased on Monday to allow people out during the day, but will remain in place at night, Iraqi authorities said. 

    Fighting persists


    Fighting continued in the Basra area in the immediate wake of al-Sadr's announcement on Sunday, but there were no serious clashes overnight.


    Seven people were killed on Sunday when a mortar struck a residential district in Baghdad's Karradah district.


    Witnesses also reported clashes in the Shula area in a northern section of the capital.


    The US military said it killed 25 suspected fighters in an air raid on Sunday after American ground forces came under heavy fire in predominantly Shia eastern Baghdad.


    Another 16 "criminals" were also killed by US forces in a series of incidents, half of those in northeast Baghdad, US military statements said.


    British role

    British forces based close to Basra's international airport were also involved on Sunday in the operation against Shia militia groups.
    Tom Holloway, a British military spokesman, told Al Jazeera that British forces in Basra had fired artillery rounds at people they had identified as opposition fighters.
    "We've been firing in support of Iraqi ground forces. They've been in contact, they've requested support from the coalition and artillery on a couple of occasions has been deemed the most appropriate response."
    In a separate development, two US troops died in separate bombings in Iraq, the US military announced on Monday.
    A soldier died when his vehicle was hit on Sunday by a roadside bomb in northern Baghdad, according to one statement.
    Another statement said that a marine was "by an enemy force with an improvised explosive device" in western Anbar province on Saturday.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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