BAGHDAD — An angry Shiite militia commander complained Wednesday that "we were duped" into accepting a cease-fire in Sadr City — remarks that point to a potentially damaging rift within the movement of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
The May 11 truce ended seven weeks of fierce fighting in Baghdad between U.S. and Iraqi forces and al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia, which held nearly complete control of the Sadr City district.
Iraqi soldiers now have moved into most parts of Sadr City with little resistance. But the objections raised by the commander highlight apparent dissent by some Mahdi Army leaders.
A split among Sadr's followers — between those favoring a more militant path and others seeking compromise with Iraq's government — could threaten the relative calm in Baghdad and re-ignite Shiite-on-Shiite violence across Iraq's oil-rich south.
The commander, speaking to tribal sheiks and lawmakers loyal to Sadr, said that "we were duped and deceived" by the truce. "They are arresting many of us now."
The group had gathered in Sadr's main Baghdad office to discuss how to respond to what they consider cease-fire "violations" by Iraqi troops, such as arrests and house searches.
Some in the audience, however, took issue with the views of the commander, whose name was not made public for security reasons.
"You can be the winner without a military victory," said Falah Hassan Shanshal, a prominent Sadrist and one of two lawmakers who attended the meeting in Sadr City, home to about 2.5-million Shiites.
"We had to bow before the storm because it was uprooting everything and everyone standing in its path," he said.
Shanshal was referring to the punishing attacks by U.S. and Iraqi forces that killed and wounded hundreds and left parts of Sadr City in ruins.
Sadr, who has been in Iran for at least a year, supported the Sadr City cease-fire. But signs of opposition have been growing within the militia ranks.
Last week, two Mahdi Army commanders said militiamen were divided over whether the cease-fire was in their interest.