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Iraqi Prime Minister suspends raids on militias

The Los Angeles Times reported Friday Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki said he would halt government raids on armed Shiite Muslim gangs in southern Iraq and Baghdad.

The announcement came a day after Maliki said he had intentions of carrying out operations in districts of Baghdad against Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia.

Last week, Maliki’s security forces fought against the Mahdi Army in the port city Basra, Iraq’s second-largest city. The fighting spread into Baghdad before Sadr told his fighters to cease the fighting.

As a result, at least 1,000 Iraqi soldiers deserted during the encounters, a senior U.S. military official said. In addition, more than half of the police force in Baghdad’s Sadr City and parts of Basra deserted their posts, a Western official said.

The senior U.S. military officer said he was relieved that Maliki decided to pause the fighting.

“Iraqis need to figure out a way to deal with it [the military problem], which means going in more slowly,? the senior U.S. military officer said. (Los Angeles Times)

The New York Times reported preachers loyal to Sadr urged their followers to march in Baghdad next week to protest the American presence in Iraq. Sadr called for a march on Wednesday, which is the fifth anniversary of the day American forces took the Iraqi capital.

“We want the occupier to leave our land; we should walk in crowds, and we must fill in the ground in order to show out refusal to everyone who tries to destroy our holy land,? Sattar al-Battat, a Sadrist preacher in eastern Baghdad, told worshippers. (New York Times)

Originally, the rally was planned to take place in Najaf, but was moved to Baghdad to allow for more people to take part in the protest, organizers said.