Global Policy Forum

Official: Iraq to Free Al-Sadr Followers


By Nadia Abou El-Magd

October 10, 2004

A senior Iraqi security official said Sunday the government will start releasing detained followers of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in exchange for the movement's decision to disarm. "All those who were not involved in crimes will be released," said Qassem Dawoud, minister of state for national security. "We didn't specify the time, but we are dealing seriously with this issue."

Members of al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia have agreed to start turning in medium and heavy weapons Monday at three police stations in Baghdad's Sadr City district, a center of Shiite militant resistance. The government will compensate them at a fixed rate based on the type of weapon surrendered, Dawoud told reporters Sunday. He provided no details. As a confidence-building measure, the government has suspended raids on al-Sadr's followers in the district.

Once authorities have verified that the weapons handover is complete, they will begin rebuilding the teeming slum, home to more than 2 million people. The Iraqi government has set aside $385 million for the purpose, Dawoud said. Some $150 million in foreign assistance is also earmarked for reconstruction in Sadr City. The five-day operation will be replicated in other cities, Dawoud said, as the government seeks to assert control over insurgent enclaves across the country ahead of elections promised in January. "No doubt that consolidating authority into one entity only, which is that of the Iraqi government, will reinforce security and the rule of law," he said.

This is not the first time Iraqi authorities have tried to make peace with Al-Sadr's militia. A deal brokered after heavy fighting in the holy city of Najaf in August allowed the Mahdi Army to walk away with its weapons and clashes continued in Sadr City. So far, al-Sadr has not pledged to disband his militia, a key U.S. and Iraqi government demand. But American and Iraqi authorities are eager to end the clashes in the Shiite stronghold so they can concentrate on suppressing the more widespread Sunni insurgency.

Dawoud said residents in rebel-dominated cities like Fallujah are being bullied into submission. "Fallujah is a city controlled by terrorists who are trying to impose their agenda on innocent civilians," he said. "All sectors of Fallujah are subjected to the pressure of terror." The government has reported progress in negotiations to bring its forces back into Fallujah, but says it is prepared to use force if necessary.

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