Najaf Peace Deal
Scores of militiamen loyal to rebellious cleric Moqtada Sadr put down their weapons in Najaf Friday as thousands of Iraqis streamed into the once-besieged shrine of Imam Ali following an agreement brokered overnight by the top Shiite Muslim religious figure in Iraq. Under the agreement, rebellious cleric Moqtada Sadr pledged to withdraw his militia from the contested shrine and other parts of the city of Najaf after three weeks of fighting against U.S. and Iraqi forces. The country’s interim government, in turn, made significant concessions. In exchange for Sadr’s compliance, the government pledged to pull U.S. military forces out of Najaf and to allow Sadr, who had been wanted by the former U.S. occupation authority on murder charges, to participate in politics. “He is as free as any Iraqi citizen to do whatever he would like in Iraq,” said Qasim Dawood, a minister of state, after announcing the government’s acceptance of the peace plan arranged by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani.
At 6:30 a.m. Friday, authorities in Najaf permitted the pilgrims to enter the city and walk toward the shrine. The crowd, estimated at more than 10,000 people, was searched for weapons by Iraqi police officers at the edge of Najaf’s Old City district, where the shrine is located. Two hours later, a message conveyed from Sadr was broadcast from the shrine’s loudspeakers instructing militiamen to depart with the crowd. “Drop your weapons and leave Najaf and Kufa,” the announcement said. “You have done a great job.”
Scores of Sadr’s militiamen were seen dropping off their weapons at Sadr’s office near the shrine. Those who had been dressed in black shirts and black trousers Ã¢€”- the uniform of the Mahdi Army — changed into normal clothes and joined the throng of people. It was unclear how thoroughly the Mahdi Army was complying with the orders to hand in weapons, however. Ahmed Shaibani, a Sadr spokesman, pledged that the city would soon be free of militants. He said that members of Sadr’s Mahdi Army would return to their homes and that leaders of the movement would go back to the religious schools that they had been attending. If that happens -Ã¢€” Sadr does not have a good track record when it comes to peace agreements — it would end a conflict that has claimed hundreds of lives and roiled Iraq’s Shiite majority, who have been concerned that using force to resolve the standoff could damage the gold-domed edifice.
We shall see. It does appear that the siege is ended. Of course, Sadr is a free man and could presumably do this again whenever he wants.