Muqtada al Sadr, the leader of the radical Mahdi Army and the Sadrist movement, has officially extended the self-imposed unilateral cease-fire. Sadr has “decided to renew the freeze on activities of the Mahdi Army for another period” of six months, spokesman Hazim al Aaraji told AFP. “The decision was disseminated yesterday in letters that were distributed to all of Sadr’s offices in Iraq.” Sadr’s official statement confirms yesterday’s reports by senior Sadrist leaders who stated off the record the cease-fire would be extended.
The US military confirmed Sadr’s extension of the truce and has welcomed Sadr’s extension of the cease-fire in press release issued today. Multinational Forces Iraq said the extension will allow Coalition and Iraqi forces to focus in on al Qaeda, but also warned the rogue elements of the Mahdi Army – the Iranian-backed Special Groups – will continue to be targeted.
The Multinational Force has received initial reporting that al-Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr’s has pledged to extend the cease fire. This extension of his August 2007 pledge of honor to halt attacks is an important commitment that can broadly contribute to further improvements in security for all Iraqi citizens. It will also foster a better opportunity for national reconciliation and allow the coalition and Iraqi Security Forces to focus more intensively on Al-Qaeda terrorists.
Those who continue to honor al-Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr’s pledge will be treated with respect and restraint. Those who dishonor the Sadr pledge are regrettably tarnishing both the name and the honor of the movement. Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces will continue to work closely with the Iraqi people to protect them from these criminals who violate the law and dishonor the commitment made by al-Sayyid Muqtada. We also welcome an opportunity to participate in dialogue with the Sadr Trend and all groups who seek to bring about reconciliation in building the new Iraq.
Sadr’s decision was strongly influenced by US and Iraqi pressure from both the military and political spheres. The US military has worked to divide the Mahdi Army since early 2007 and began to see results by the late summer of that year. As noted at the beginning of February, US forces began to step up operations against the Sadr-linked and Iranian-backed Mahdi Army to pressure Sadr to extend the cease-fire. US forces raided Sadr City several days later, and then proceeded, along with Iraqi troops, to relentlessly target Special Groups cells in central and southern Iraq. Multinational Forces Iraq even blamed the Special Groups for a blast in Sadr City and rocket attacks throughout Baghdad.
Sadr’s original cease-fire order, which was issued after clashes between the Mahdi Army and the Iraqi security forces during a religious festival in Najaf in August 2007, is widely credited with contributing to the dramatic reduction in violence since September 2007. The US and Iraqi surge in forces, the spread of the Sunni Awakening movement, the rapid growth of the Sunni and Shia “Sons of Iraq” local security forces, the change in counterinsurgency plan, and the appointment of General David Petraeus as commander of Multinational Forces Iraq have had a major impact on the reduction in sectarian and insurgency-related violence.
For more information on the background of Sadr’s decision to extend the ceasefire, see Report: Sadr to extend cease-fire.
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