Rival Shiite leaders bury the hatchet in peace deal
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) — Two rival Shiite leaders signed an agreement Saturday to end months of rancor and fighting between the two powerful movements they command, a representative of one of the men said.
Muqtada al-Sadr, the populist Shiite cleric, and Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the head of the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq, forged the agreement in the spirit of the current Muslim holy month of Ramadan, said SICI spokesman Haytham al-Husseini. Gestures of forgiveness and mercy are often made during Ramadan.
The deal has three main points: stopping the fighting between Iraqis, urging print and electronic media to engender a spirit of friendship and forgiveness, and establishing commissions in each of Iraq’s 18 provinces to oversee the peace initiative.
Al-Husseini said al-Sadr, who recently returned to Iraq from Iran, signed the agreement in Najaf, the Shiite holy city in the south, and al-Hakim signed it in Iran.
The men head movements that are in the middle of a power struggle in Shiite regions across Iraq, particularly in the south.
Al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army and SICI‘s Badr Organization militia have squared off in recent months, with Mehdi gunmen many times fighting police who are aligned with the Badr group.
Clashes between those groups during a recent pilgrimage in the Shiite holy city of Karbala sparked all-out fighting in that city, Baghdad and Babil province.
That fighting, in August, left dozens dead and caused al-Sadr to suspend his militia for six months for restructuring.
Meanwhile on Saturday, the U.S. military countered media reports that civilians were among 25 people killed during fighting near Baquba early Friday.
The military, underscoring its earlier account of the incident, said it was targeting a Shiite militant believed to be associated with members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – Quds Force, the entity accused by the United States of providing arms and training to insurgents in Iraq.
Troops came under heavy fire in a village in Diyala province, which extends north and east of Baghdad and borders Iran, and a battle ensued, the military said.
The military said air power was called in to support ground troops and the strike killed 25 people. But, the military says, they weren’t civilians.
"In this instance, we have confirmed that the 25 criminals who were killed were responsible for the attack on our forces and in fact were members of an extremist group operating in the Baquba region," the military said.
Iraqi authorities told CNN on Friday that the airstrike in the village, a Shiite community, killed and wounded civilians, including women and children.
In raids on Saturday, coalition forces killed six insurgents and detained 18, the U.S. military said.
The raids, targeting the Sunni-dominated al Qaeda in Iraq, were conducted in the Baghdad area, in Kirkuk, and near Samarra.
"We’re on the offensive against al Qaeda in Iraq and the foreign terrorists who help them," said Maj. Winfield Danielson, Multi-National Forces-Iraq spokesman.
A roadside bomb in southern Baghdad on Saturday killed a U.S. soldier and wounded three others, the U.S. military said.
This brings the number of U.S. military deaths to seven in October and 3,808 since the beginning of the Iraq war. Seven civilian contractors for the Defense Department also have been killed.