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Sadr City mayor says he has presented agreement with armed groups to keep weapons off streets to U.S. officials

Sadr City mayor says he has presented agreement with armed groups to keep weapons off streets to U.S. officials

The mayor of Baghdad's Sadr City says he has reached agreement with political and religious groups to keep weapons off the streets of the heavily populated Shiite militia stronghold and has presented the deal to U.S. and Iraqi government officials in an apparent attempt to avoid a military crackdown on the area.
Rahim al-Darraji said Iraqi troops will be in charge of security in the sprawling district in eastern Baghdad. His comments come amid fears that Sadr City, the main headquarters of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia that has been blamed in much of the rising sectarian violence in recent months, could be a major target in a planned U.S.-Iraqi security crackdown.
Iraq's Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has promised the operation will focus on militia violence as well as Sunni insurgents amid criticism that his reluctance to confront his political backer al-Sadr contributed to the failure of previous attempts.
Asked if the Mahdi Army militia was among the groups that promised not to carry arms, al-Darraji said, "all the groups with no exception."
Al-Darraji said the Iraqi government and the U.S. military had been informed about the agreement during a meeting held last week. He added that he met with British Army Lt. Gen. Graeme Lamb, deputy commander of coalition forces in Iraq, to discuss the agreement on Jan. 15.
"We told them (the Iraqi government) there will be no armed presence but you should guarantee security in the city," he said. "We told the Americans that Sadr City is a heavily populated neighborhood and currently has a very small number of police and army forces. We want more recruitment from the neighborhood in order to reduce unemployment."
Lamb's office declined to confirm or deny the meeting, saying only the general meets with many Iraqi officials, including military, government and civilians.
The mayor also said the Iraqi government should confiscate all unlicensed weapons and release some prisoners as a confidence-building measure.
He added that he also held a meeting on Jan. 14 with al-Maliki. He told the prime minister that they back his security plan in which thousands of Iraqi and U.S. troops are expected to carry neighborhood-to-neighborhood sweeps to try to secure Baghdad.
Sadr City has been targeted by a large number of explosions that killed hundreds of people in the past months, including Nov. 23 bombings that killed at least 215 people. The Mahdi Army had been almost in full charge of security in the area, checking cars and suspicious people, but their military presence dropped sharply recently after reports that they might be targeted by the security plan.
U.S. and Iraqi troops have been carrying raids in the neighborhood against Mahdi Army commanders and members who have been accused of carrying sectarian killings against Sunnis. Last week, U.S. troops detained a chief al-Sadr aide Abdul-Hadi al-Darraji, but the mayor said they were not related.
"We confirm that Sadr City will work in order to make the security plan successful and in order to reach a free and democratic Iraq and we confirm that weapons will only be in the hands of the state and security forces," he said.
Al-Maliki has said that more than 400 Mahdi Army members have been captured by U.S. troops in recent weeks.
The U.S. military also announced earlier this week that U.S. and Iraqi forces captured 16 high-level Mahdi Army members and 33 key Sunni insurgents in a 45 day timespan, in addition to six other militia leaders who have been captured since the start of October.
It said more than 600 Mahdi Army members were in jail awaiting prosecution by the Iraqi government.


Updated : 2021-03-08 02:24 GMT+08:00