/ 30 April 2008

More than 900 killed in Iraq’s Sadr City clashes

More than 900 people have been killed in clashes between militiamen and security forces in Baghdad’s Sadr City, which broke out last month, a senior Iraqi official told reporters on Wednesday.

”There were 925 martyrs in Sadr City and 2 605 others have been wounded” in the firefights that began on March 25 and are still continuing, said Tehseen Sheikhly, a spokesperson for the government’s Baghdad security plan.

Fierce clashes between United States and Iraqi forces and Shi’ite fighters, mostly from the Mehdi Army militia of anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, erupted after Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki ordered a crackdown on militiamen in the southern city of Basra.

The crackdown triggered a wave of clashes in other Shi’ite regions of Iraq, but particularly in Sadr City, the bastion of the Mehdi Army in east Baghdad.

The clashes have also inflicted heavy toll on US forces. At least 20 soldiers have been killed in Baghdad in April, a significant number of them in and around Sadr City.

So far in April, the US military has lost 46 soldiers across Iraq, making it the deadliest month since it lost 65 troops in September 2007, according to an Agence France-Presse tally.

The military says it will continue to fight the ”criminals” in Sadr City so long as they continue to fire rocket or mortar rounds from the district at the heavily fortified Green Zone, seat of the Iraqi government and US embassy.

Sheikhly, however, did not provide the breakdown of how many militiamen and civilians were killed in these firefights.

Maliki, meanwhile, has vowed to disband the Mehdi Army and on Wednesday even accused the militiamen of using civilians as ”human shields” while fighting the security forces.

”Criminals and lawless gangs are using human shields in Sadr City … They are following the steps of the Ba’athist regime,” Maliki said at a press conference earlier on Wednesday.

”They are trying to gain sympathy but they are using the lies and the values of the former regime.”

Maliki vowed to disband Mehdi Army and Sunni insurgent groups and also to eliminate al-Qaeda in Iraq.

”We will not allow scavengers in Iraq. The suffering will not be long in Sadr City. We will save our brothers,” he said.

”This is our final objective. We will not retreat till we have taken the weapons from the militia, disbanded Jaish al-Mahdi” and Sunni insurgent groups like ”Jaish al-Islami, Jaish al-Omar and eliminate al-Qaeda”.

He accused the militiamen of forcing Sadr City locals to stay at home out of fear. — AFP