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Sadr threatens to end7-month cease-fire

BAGHDAD — Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr raised the stakes Tuesday in his showdown with the government, threatening to formally end a seven-month cease-fire unless authorities stop attacks on his followers in Baghdad.

Formally ending the cease-fire could trigger renewed fighting throughout southern Iraq, nine days after a deal brokered in Iran calmed the region.

But there was no letup in the clashes in the capital Tuesday, as American and Iraqi soldiers stepped up the pressure against Shiite militants in their Sadr City stronghold of northeast Baghdad. U.S. troops fired missiles at three mortar positions, killing 12 militants, the American command said. Iraqi police and hospitals said 14 people were killed and 37 wounded in Sadr City.

The Iraqi military ordered vehicles and motorcycles off the streets from 5 a.m. today until midnight — a move apparently aimed at preventing Shiite gunmen from moving freely.

The vehicle ban was imposed despite a decision by Sadr to call off his "million-strong" demonstration set for today to demand an end to the American military presence. Sadr's Mahdi militia has been battling American and Iraqi soldiers in the sprawling Sadr City slum.

Fearing the demonstration might trigger violence throughout Baghdad, Iraqi soldiers began turning back military-aged men traveling to the capital Tuesday from Shiite areas to the south.

Sadr then called off the rally, apparently fearing a modest turnout would display weakness at a time when he is locked in a violent power struggle with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a fellow Shiite. Maliki has told Sadr to disband his militia or give up politics.

Instead, Sadr's aides called a news conference at a hotel on Firdous Square, where U.S. Marines hauled down the statue of Saddam Hussein five years ago. The aides released a statement condemning the government for allegedly bowing to "the hated American pressure."

2 soldiers killed

Two more U.S. troops were killed in the Baghdad fighting, the U.S. command announced. At least 12 American service members have died in Iraq since Sunday. Also Tuesday, rockets slammed into the U.S.-protected Green Zone, but the U.S. Embassy said there were no casualties.

>>Fast facts

Iran condemns attacks on Green Zone

Iran's Foreign Ministry on Tuesday condemned for the first time rocket and mortar attacks against the U.S.-controlled Green Zone in Baghdad by supporters of anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammed Ali Hosseini also denounced raids by U.S. forces in Sadr City, a sprawling Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad that Sadr's Mahdi Army militia has been using to launch the attacks. Iran recently helped broker a truce between Sadr and the Shiite-led Iraqi government based in the Green Zone.

Sexual assault cases: The Justice Department has not prosecuted any cases involving sexual assaults against civilians who work for contractors in Iraq or Afghanistan despite a law giving it that authority, according to written testimony submitted to a Senate subcommittee by Sigal P. Mandelker, deputy attorney general of the Justice Department's criminal division. Her comments came in prepared testimony obtained Tuesday by the Associated Press. She is to testify today before a subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chaired by Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.

Australia offers visas: Australia has offered to take in hundreds of Iraqis who have worked for its troops, in recognition of the danger faced by those helping foreign forces, Defense Minister Joel Fitzgibbon said in Canberra, Australia, on Tuesday. Humanitarian visas will be offered to Iraqis who work as translators, interpreters and in other jobs for Australian troops.

Sadr threatens to end7-month cease-fire 04/08/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 10:25am]

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