Basra returning to normal after Sadr truce

Mon Mar 31, 2008 5:07pm EDT
 
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By Peter Graff and Ross Colvin

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Residents buried their dead after calm returned to the southern Iraqi city of Basra on Monday, but fighting broke out in Baghdad despite a truce called by Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to end a week of bloodshed.

Sadr called his Mehdi Army fighters off the streets on Sunday, nearly a week after Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki launched a crackdown on them, sparking clashes that spread through the mainly Shi'ite south and also the capital.

Political analysts said the government offensive in the oil port of Basra appeared to have backfired by exposing the weakness of Maliki's army.

The crackdown also exposed a deep rift within Iraq's Shi'ite majority -- between the political parties in Maliki's government and followers of the populist cleric Sadr.

"What has happened has weakened the government and shown the weakness of the state. Now the capability of the state to control Iraq is open to question," said Izzat al-Shahbander, a Shi'ite politician from the small Iraqi National List party, which quit the government last year.

Life slowly returned to normal in Basra, where Sadr's masked militia fighters were no longer openly brandishing weapons, witnesses said.

Shops began to reopen. Authorities said schools would reopen on Tuesday. Residents hosed down the hulks of burnt-out cars and carried the dead in coffins in their trunks.

"We have control of the towns around Basra and also inside the city. There are no clashes anywhere in Basra. Now we are dismantling roadside bombs," said Major-General Mohammed Jawan Huweidi, commander of the Iraqi Army's 14th division.   Continued...

 
<p>A resident rides his scooter past an Iraqi soldier standing guard on a road in Basra March 31, 2008. REUTERS/Atef Hassan</p>