THE BLOG
03/31/2008 12:10 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

NSN Iraq Daily Update 3/31/08


SADR ORDERS MILITIA OFF THE STREETS, REFUSES TO HAND IN WEAPONS, DEMANDS FOLLOWERS' RELEASE

Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr called on his followers on Sunday to stop battling government forces after a week of fighting in southern Iraq and Baghdad.
"Because of the religious responsibility, and to stop Iraqi blood being shed ... we call for an end to armed appearances in Basra and all other provinces," Sadr said in a statement. "Anyone carrying a weapon and targeting government institutions will not be one of us." Sadr's statement appeared aimed at averting a full-scale confrontation between his followers and Iraqi and U.S. forces that would plunge southern, mainly Shi'a Iraq into chaos. However, a high level Sadr official said, "The weapons of the resistance will not be delivered to the Iraqi government." In exchange for an end to fighting, Sadr demanded that the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki release hundreds of detained Sadr followers not proven guilty of crimes. Over the past few months, Iraqi security forces have raided the homes of hundreds of Sadr followers, arresting and detaining them. Thousands more have fled. Sadr demanded that they be returned to their homes. The declaration seemed to take his followers by surprise and it was not clear what effect Sadr's call would have on the violence, but there appeared to be a lull in fighting in Basra and the southern city of Nassiriya, Reuters reporters said. A U.S. military spokesman said there were clashes in Baghdad after Sadr's order, including three incidents in which U.S. forces opened fire from helicopter gunships, but some parts of the capital seemed quieter. [Washington Post, 3/31/08, Reuters, 3/30/08]

Iran has role in cease-fire. Iranian officials helped broker the cease-fire agreement Sunday between Iraq's government and radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, according to Iraqi lawmakers. Osama al-Nujaifi, a Sunni lawmaker who oversaw mediation in Baghdad, said representatives from al-Maliki's Dawa Party and another Shiite party traveled to Iran to finalize talks with al-Sadr. Iran has close ties with both al-Sadr's movement and al-Maliki, who spent several years in exile there. Al-Nujaifi said the commander of Iran's al-Quds Brigade, which is considered a terrorist organization by Washington, brokered the agreement. [USA Today, 3/31/08]

MALIKI RETREATS, MILITIA REMAINS

Iraq wraps up operations.
An adviser to Iraq's prime minister says military operations in the besieged southern city of Basra will finish before the end of this week, saying the situation was under control. The statement came one day after Shi'a cleric Moqtada al-Sadr called on his militia fighters to stand down. Al-Maliki vowed to stay in Basra until the militia was crushed. But his adviser said Monday the leader is expected to return soon to Baghdad, though he gave no exact date. [AP, 3/31/08]

BUSH'S IRAQ POLICY IS INCREASING EXTREMISM ABROAD

European authorities claim the Iraq war has enticed Muslim youths to head to a battlefield where they have learned skills that may one day be used in domestic terror attacks.
When Boubakeur el Hakim returned to France after fighting U.S. forces in Iraq, he told his war stories to other young men on the forgotten edges of French society, allegedly persuading some to follow in his footsteps. His younger brother did, and died fighting U.S. forces. Along with four other young Frenchmen, a Moroccan and an Algerian, el Hakim is accused of funneling French Muslim fighters to Iraq. All the Frenchmen except suspected ringleader Farid Benyettou, 26, have acknowledged going to Iraq or planning to go. At least seven French insurgents have died, some in suicide bombings, police say. Many youths are heading to war zones individually, avoiding organized cells, to better avoid detection. Two men considered linked to Europe's deadliest Islamic terror attack, the 2004 bombings in Madrid, are believed to have later killed themselves in suicide attacks in Iraq. Spanish authorities have arrested dozens of people suspected of recruiting Islamic fighters for the Iraq insurgency. [AP, 3/30/08]