Muqtadr al Sadr should have been at the least, imprisoned since Khoei was murdered in 2003. There is no excuse for allowing him, or his politics to control ANYTHING MORE. He represent brute force, and intimidation.
BAGHDAD (AP) - Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said Sunday that he was pulling his fighters off the streets nationwide and called on the government to stop raids against his followers and free them from prison.
The Iraqi government quickly welcomed al-Sadr's apparent move to resolve a widening conflict with his movement, sparked Tuesday by operations against his backers in the oil-rich southern city of Basra.
Al-Sadr's nine-point statement was issued by his headquarters in the holy city of Najaf and broadcast through loudspeakers on Shiite mosques. It said the first point was: "taking gunmen off the streets in Basra and elsewhere."
He also demanded that the Iraqi government stop "haphazard raids" and release security detainees who haven't been charged, two issues cited by his movement as reasons for fighting the government.
A stable Iraq is impossible with private armies. That is Gaza and the West Bank.
Followers handed out sweets in Baghdad's main Mahdi Army militia stronghold of Sadr City.
Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh called the statement "positive and responsible." But he also warned in a telephone interview broadcast on Iraqi state TV. that security forces would continue to target those who don't follow the order.
"We expect a wide response to this call," he said. "After this announcement, anybody who targets the government and its institutions will be regarded ... as outlaws."
Iraqi security forces have been facing fierce resistance to their crackdown on militia violence in the southern city of Basra.
Dozens of Shiite gunmen stormed a state TV facility in central Basra before al-Sadr's declaration Sunday, forcing Iraqi troops guarding the building to flee and setting armored vehicles on fire.
One of al-Maliki's top security officials was killed in a mortar attack against the palace that houses the military operations center, officials said.
The strength of the resistance to the week-old offensive has taken the U.S.-backed government by surprise, forcing it to come up with a new tactical plan targeting several Mahdi Army strongholds, a government official said.
The official, who was in Basra but spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release the information, said Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki also had brought in reinforcements and appealed to local tribal leaders to help secure the area.
The prime minister, himself a Shiite, has called the fight "a decisive and final battle" and vowed to remain in Basra until government forces wrest control from militias, including the Mahdi Army that is loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.