Anti-American Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr has urged members of his Mahdi Army to respect his order for a six-month freeze of military activity, threatening offenders in the feared militia with expulsion.
A statement by al-Sadr’s office in the holy city of Najaf south of Baghdad said the cleric’s call on the militiamen to respect the freeze, announced in August, was issued in response to questions from followers about whether the order to stand down still applied.
It was not clear why al-Sadr’s office issued the statement now, but U.S. forces appear to have escalated of their campaign against what the military calls rogue, Iranian-backed Mahdi Army militiamen.
Clashes between suspected Mahdi Army militiamen and rival Shiite groups are on the rise in parts of the mainly Shiite south of Iraq.
Al-Sadr said the freeze remained in force and may be renewed if such a move was found to be beneficial. “Enemy parties are spreading this news (that the freeze ended) to tarnish the image of this heroic ideological army that has shown loyalty to its leadership by implementing the freeze.” He, however, said some did observe the freeze.
“So, we appeal to everyone to obey the order in every respect or risk being expelled from this … army in which there is no place for renegades.” [complete article]