NAJAF, Iraq (AFP) — Iraqi Shiite radical leader Moqtada al-Sadr on Tuesday threatened to end the ceasefire of his feared Mahdi Army militia which he announced last August.
Sadr also cancelled a massive anti-US demonstration he had called in Baghdad for Wednesday, the fifth anniversary of the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime.
"The Jaish al-Mahdi (Mahdi Army) is hand in hand with the Iraqi people to achieve security, stability and liberation. If it is of interest to lift the ceasefire to achieve the aims and goals, it will be announced in a separate statement," Sadr said in a communique released by his office.
Sadr had ordered the freeze on the activities of his Mahdi Army last August after allegations that it was involved in firefights with security forces in the central shrine city of Karbala in which more than 50 people were killed.
US commanders acknowledge that the ceasefire was a major factor in the reduction in violence seen across Iraq in the second half of last year, although the death toll has risen again in recent weeks.
Sadr's threat to end the eight-month-old truce came after Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki ordered a major crackdown on militias in the southern city of Basra sparking deadly clashes between the Mahdi Army and government troops.
In a statement bearing Sadr's seal, the cleric said he was also cancelling the anti-US protest he had called for Wednesday.
"I call upon the Iraqi people to postpone the march. I am afraid for them. I want to save Iraqi blood. I am afraid that an Iraqi may lay his hand on them," Sadr said.
He also accused Maliki's government of acting under "American pressure."
"The escalation of government measures against the Iraqi people proves that the government is still under the American pressure," he said.
"It is trying to cancel the march of a million people. It is trying to cancel the participation of the believers in the elections and is trying to consolidate the American project that divides Iraq on religions and ethnic grounds."
In an interview with US television network CNN on Monday, Maliki had warned Sadr that his political movement would be barred from participating in national elections if he did not disband the Mahdi Army.
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