Residents, NGOs welcome Sadr City truce

Aid organisations and residents of Baghdad's mainly Shia district of Sadr City welcomed on 11 May a truce between Shia militiamen loyal to radical leader Moqtada al-Sadr and US-backed government forces, ending seven weeks of clashes that left daily life almost paralysed since 25 March.

"We welcome and encourage any act, agreement and dialogue that helps end the bloodshed of Iraqis and helps aid organisations do their work properly in reaching all needy persons," said Basil al-Azawi, head of the Iraqi Commission for Civil Society Enterprises (ICCSE), a coalition of over 1,000 Iraqi non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

"The deteriorated security situation that Sadr City witnessed over the past seven weeks hindered all aid operations and, in our estimation, only 1 percent of the City's medical, food and public services needs are being met. There is a lot to be done," al-Azawi told IRIN.

Al-Azawi added that there are plans and programmes to assist residents of Sadr City “but all these plans are still in theory as we are monitoring the situation on the ground fearing that this lull [in fighting] could be a fragile one”.

Elastic language

The 10-point truce agreement, which comes into effect on 11 May, stipulates that the Mahdi Army militia stop fighting US and Iraqi forces in Sadr City, an area where nearly 2.5 million people live, and stop displaying their weapons in public.

In return, the government will stop conducting random raids on al-Sadr's followers and open all the roads leading to Sadr City that had previously been closed.

''It’s a sketchy agreement and it’s a fragile ceasefire.''

But the agreement is unlikely to end the stand off, a Baghdad-based analyst said.

“It’s a sketchy agreement and it’s a fragile ceasefire," said Mohammed Jawad Nassir, a professor at Baghdad's University of Al-Rafidain.

"It talks of the ceasefire only in Sadr City and it doesn't refer to other areas in Iraq and it also doesn't mention anything about the special groups that splintered off the Mahdi Army and which receive support from Iran," Nassir added.

"This elastic language will give more space to Moqtada al-Sadr to manoeuvre and send his most wanted militiamen to other places or to fight in other places," he added.

While Iraqi authorities had not reported any violence by the afternoon of 11 May and Shia militants had seemingly disappeared from the streets, many of Sadr City residents are concerned and sceptical.

"We are happy with this good news but how long will this last? That is the question," said Sadr City resident Qassim Nasser al-Lami, a 54-year-old father-of-six.

"I just ventured out this morning to get some essential food but I hesitate to send my children to school or to open my shop," added al-Lami who runs a mechanical workshop in Sadr City.

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