9 August 2008
In the north, a car bomb exploded Friday evening in a crowded market in the city of
Moves toward peace from al-Sadr and the bloody attack in Tal Afar, a predominantly Turkoman city with a small Arab community, underscore the complexity of trying to ensure stability here despite a dramatic improvement in security nationwide.
The order from al-Sadr, who mounted two uprisings against U.S.-led forces in 2004, was read to his followers during weekly Friday prayers in Shia mosques across the country. He instructed his Mahdi Army militiamen to join religious and social welfare classes as part of a new organization the Momahidoun," or those who pave the way."
Posters announcing the Momahidoun have appeared on walls in
It is an ideological, cultural, religious and social army that will be charged with carrying out an intellectual and scientific holy war and to free the minds, hearts and souls from the secularist Western onslaught and is absolutely prohibited from the use of arms," the posters say.
Al-Sadr has been moving toward a primarily political role for his militia since August 2007, when he declared a unilateral cease-fire.
His militia suffered major setbacks in fighting last spring in
But al-Sadr retains strong support among impoverished Shias in southern
Last June he announced that the Mahdi Army would be transformed into a social welfare movement except for secret special cells that would carry out resistance" against the Americans and other foreign troops.
But his chief spokesman and a senior Mahdi Army commander both told The Associated Press on Friday that al-Sadr would be willing to stop fighting entirely if the Americans accept a timetable to remove their forces.
The cells of fighters will stay ready to operate," said Salah al-Obeidi, al-Sadr's chief spokesman. They will wait and see what is in the security agreement."
Two Iraqi officials said Thursday that the Americans had agreed to remove all
Al-Sadr has long opposed the
Ali al-Adeeb, a close aide to al-Maliki, described al-Sadr's statement as a good and a positive step in the right direction."
Despite recent setbacks, the future of the Mahdi Army, estimated between 25,000 and 40,000 fighters, remains a key issue in building long-term security in
A recent report by Anthony H. Cordesman of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies described the Mahdi Army as the biggest Shia threat to both the Iraqi government and the U.S.-led coalition."
Even without a
Now our stance is to watch the political developments and the security agreement," he said. We will see if there will be a withdrawal timetable or not. We will wait for the results. These cells have not yet conducted any operations."
Attacks continue against
He acknowledged some opposition within militia ranks to al-Sadr's reorganization plans.
There has been some dissent among militiamen when the news first broke about the Momahidoun Army," the commander said. But what Muqtada says always turns out at the end to be good."
He said classes for militiamen will begin in Shia mosques across the country next month. Teachers will be religious figures" known for their education and culture, he said.
The commander said the goal was to weed out criminal elements" and restore the reputation of the militia as a people's organization."
The bombing in Tal Afar occurred about 6:30 p.m., when the area was packed with shoppers, a senior police official said. The explosion took place about a half hour after expiration of a regular weekly vehicle ban to prevent bombers from targeting weekly Islamic services.
Meanwhile, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili told CNN that the country is calling home its troops from
Also Friday, the
Source: Khaleej Times Online